Lowry Hamner's an old friend, but since I hadn't heard that he was working on a new record it was an unexpected treat to find out about it just after the start of the new year. More than thirty years ago, Lowry fronted a band called the Criers that recorded two LPs before falling prey to typical record company screwery. Like many major label refugees, he went out on his own, and eventually released a solo album, Secrets of the Heart, in 1998. American Dreaming is his second CD.
A couple of the cuts here are songs that Lowry's been playing in gigs for a decade or more, and it's nice to see them finally on disc; at least one song ("The Breakdown," which has been covered by Willie Nile) dates back to the time of the Criers. The lyrics of another proudly promise, "I'm gonna wear my heart on my sleeve," and in fact there's nothing coy about Lowry's songs. They're all emotionally exposed in one way or another, though the spectrum of emotional weather runs from the decidedly sunny ("Hope and Love") to about as bleak as it gets. The latter is most evident in "Ballad of Samson," about a killing spree in Alabama. The song, co-written with the poet Jeanne Marie Beaumont, reminds us, even before Newtown, of the hard kernel of nightmare that's all too often wrapped up inside the American Dream:
He was a gun aficionadoMusically the album ranges from hard-edged rock and blues to the tropical lilt of "Thief of Dreams," with maybe a bit of South African-influenced guitar on "Hope and Love." Veteran guitarist Jon Sholle and Clay Barnes (another Criers alumnus) are among the supporting musicians. The CD appears on the Alien Chants label and can be ordered from CD Baby.
But the townsfolk are still packing ammo
With factory jobs lost overseas
everyone feels ill at ease
A hail of bullets breaks the silence
another day of random violence
no reason, no explanation
shots ring out in a grieving nation