Singer-songwriter and punk scene veteran Chuck Ragan's distinctly scratchy pipes distinguish "Non Typical," an impassioned, undeniable shot of sing-along Americana. The song is one of several relationship-based numbers featured on Ragan's fourth solo album, Till Midnight, due on March 25th.
"Tides of emotion, will and love are completely captivating and ever-changing," Ragan explains to Rolling Stone. "When love beckons we either run like the wind, go with the flow, settle to make do or work to make better. Sometimes we connect and sometimes disintegrate. In any case or any relationship, whether typical or not, the ol' 'this is as good as it gets' attitude simply settles for less. Just because we’re smitten, recovering or bonded for life doesn't mean there isn't any more work to do. We make our own choices to stay, go or heal. Work a little harder or love a little stronger. This tune is a message conveying the fact that there's always a way to build a better now and a better tomorrow."
In preparation for the album – which also features titles including "Something May Catch Fire," "Vagabond," "Bedroll Lullaby" and "Wake With You" – Ragan holed up for a week at his home in northern California with his band the Camaraderie – guitarist-pedal steel player Todd Beene, fiddler Jon Gaunt and bassist Joe Ginsberg, and new drummer David Hidalgo Jr., currently of Social Distortion and formerly of Suicidal Tendencies. From there, the group road-tested the songs across Europe. Till Midnight was produced by Blind Melon and AWOL Nation member Christopher Thorn. The disc also boasts guest appearances from Foo Fighters and Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffe, Lucero's Ben Nichols, Dave Hause and members of Drag the River.
This spring, when the Hold Steady release their sixth LP Teeth Dreams, nearly four years will have passed since the Brooklyn band's previous full-length album, 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever. It's the longest gap between albums in the rock band's decade-plus career. "[The recording process] may have dragged out a bit this time," singer Craig Finn tells Rolling Stone. "But I think it's all for the best." Read Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists Teeth Dreams wasrecorded over the past two years in Brooklyn and Franklin, Tenn. and marks a new beginning for the Hold Steady: it’s their first album recorded with longtime touring guitarist Steve Selvidge, who joined the band on the road following the 2010 departure of multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay. "It was exciting again," says guitarist Tad Kubler. "There was a newness to this album that I hadn’t felt in awhile."
The new tracks find the band leaning heavy on distortion and snaking guitar licks – Finn’s favorite of the batch is "On With the Business," a pummeling blast of electric guitar and vocal delay that finds the notoriously sharp-eyed vocalist appraising a city heavy on "weak handshakes" and "beautiful kitchens." On "The Ambassador," one of the album's rare moments of serenity, Finn’s details a temporary holding cell of a shack-up in Michigan with "hot and glistening nights" and halls that "smelled like burning hair." And the band's first single, "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You" (streaming below) is a barreling Foo Fighters-style melodic rocker, with rapid-fire vocals spilling from Finn as drummer Bobby Drake swings beneath.
He says the band has drummed up their biggest-sounding, most rock-oriented album to date. "We were looking to make a big rock record," he admits. "Maybe it's less wild but in some ways that makes it a bigger record.” Teeth Dreams is not the Hold Steady's only new release: the band is also prepping to unveil a covers EP, RAGS, which was funded by donations from fans and will released directly to them. A portion of all proceeds will benefit their late friend and business partner, Mike Van Jura, who died suddenly in November 2012. The band recorded the EP in Brooklyn this past December, where each member brought in one song to record. "There’s some classic rock, there's some punk rock, there's some indie rock" he says. "[The songs] are kind of indicative of where we’re coming from."
Teeth Dreams is out on March 25th via Washington Square Records. Stream the first single "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You" below: