CD Review: The Good Morning Nags “Hard Hope”

Posted: December 19, 2019 in Music
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Six-piece NYC based ensemble The Good Morning Nags dates back almost a decade as they formed back in 2010. Today’s version of the band consists of Tim Hassler (fiddle, vocals), Ben Quinn (mandolin, guitar, harmonium, and vocals), Titus Tompkins (percussion, mandolin, vocals) and Britt Reagan (guitar, dulcimer, vocals) as well as Mark Spitznagel (banjo, vocals) and Pete O’Neill (bass, vocals). This ensemble of musicians takes their various musical influences and creates a style that revolves around a Folk-Rock/Country-Rock style of music. Having already released a seven-song self-titled EP back in 2017, the band recently returned with a new album of music. That 2019 album is entitled Hard Hope.

The Good Morning Nags begin their new album of Hard Hope with the song called “Heels and Dynamite”. The song begins with the acoustic guitar creating what can only be described as a Folk-Rock style before the rest of the instrumentation joins in. The Bluegrass influence on the track comes from the inclusion of the banjo and mandolin. As the track progresses, a fiddle, bass and light percussion is added. Before long, the Bluegrass/ Folk-Rock approach on the track is complete. “Heels and Dynamite” from The Good Morning Nags takes the feel of Bluegrass music and gives it a more modern feel to it.

Hard Hope continues with the song “Birmingham”. The track begins with the sound of a vehicle turning over and coming to life. That approach actually works as the song is about traveling as the lyrics deal with getting behind the wheel and going on a road trip. In this instance, the song is about going down to Birmingham, just as the song title suggests. “Birmingham” from The Good Morning Nags is a track that does a fine job of blending together the Old Timey feel of Bluegrass music with a driving feel to the tempo that comes from a more Rock and Roll-type musical approach. Fans of modern-day Folk-Rock/Country-Rock musical blends will instantly fall in love with the feel of the song. And with the inclusion of the clapping near the middle of the track and the rather funky feel to the ending, “Birmingham” has a lot of different elements to combine for a song that is fun to listen to.

The Good Morning Nags continue the new album of Hard Hope with “No Damn Good”. While the track “Birmingham” blends together Bluegrass with a blend of Country, Rock and Folk, “No Damn Good” features a sound that is rather different in sound than the other track but is just as varied in its musical makeup. The Bluegrass base that was found on “Birmingham” is joined on “No Damn Good” by a Creole style of music. The result is a track that contains a strong accordion presence to go along with a Country-style approach. The track brings to mind the style of someone like the “Louisiana Man” himself, Doug Kershaw. “No Damn Good” features a lyrical content that is rather self-deprecating but the strong, driving feel of the track’s pace allows the listener to enjoy the song without truly feeling sorry for the singer. The more Creole approach on this track is a nice contrast to the Folk-Rock/Country-Rock style of music found on “Birmingham”.

It is with the title track that the release continues. “Hard Hope” is a track that features a stronger Folk approach to the music. But with the inclusion of a strong beat at the beginning of the song adding a touch of Rock and Roll vibe to the track, the song brings to mind the same type of musical approach that one might find with bands like Mumford and Sons or the group Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. With its Folk/Rock blend, “Hard Hope” could easily qualify as Indie Folk. The gang-style vocals of the entire band in the background of the refrain on the track adds a rather interesting element to the song, which seems to draw the listener further into the music. The title track off of the Hard Hope album ends up being one of the strongest moments on the album.

“Little Taste of Home” is a track that blends together an Old-Timey feel to Country music with a taste of Folk music. The inclusion of the banjo, fiddle and other Country music instruments on this track place the song squarely within the Country genre. What results is a track that would feel right at home among songs of the sixties but could also have possibly been found within earlier eras of music. “Little Taste of Home” is one of the songs on the release that would satisfy fans of almost any era of Country music, no matter how old those music fans are.

While the track “Little Taste of Home” has a timeless feel to its music, the song “Crazy” is a much different story. Having nothing to do with the classic Patsy Cline track of the same title, “Crazy” from The Good Morning Nags is a blend of Country music and Folk with a touch of Acoustic Rock thrown in. The light approach of the music creates a song that could be classified as “Indie Folk”, placing it within the same category as Mumford and Sons or The Lumineers. Although there already are the tracks from Patsy Cline and Gnarls Barkley that make use of the title, “Crazy” from The Good Morning Nags creates yet another track with that title that could easily find its way onto radio, whether on Public Radio formats or within Adult Contemporary radio.

Although most of the tracks that make up this album fall into the Folk/Country category, songs like the aforementioned title track of “Hard Hope” offer something more for the listener that helps push the music of The Good Morning Nags out of being considered strictly Country or Folk. The same thing can be said for the song “Rumble Road”. This track finds the band once again drawing from the Folk/Rock category. But this track seems to have a bit of influence from the British Rock band Gomez, who incorporate instruments like the banjo into their Alternative Rock music. Like Gomez, The Good Morning Nags incorporate a little Alternative Rock influence into the song “Rumble Road” to give the track a bit of an edge to the music. This makes “Rumble Road” a track that stands out among the dozen tracks that make up the Hard Hope release.

Having released their self-titled EP in 2017, the 2019 Hard Hope album from The Good Morning Nags finds the band building upon that earlier release. This is a solid album of music that actually outshines the earlier release, which indicates that the band is growing as a unit.

To hear the music of The Good Morning Nags, check out the band’s video to the song “Birmingham”. 

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