In the ‘40s, Hadacol was a phenomenally popular and equally strong alcoholic elixir that sponsored Hank Williams’ radio show. It’s safe to say that the new incarnation of Hadacol, a rootsy midwestern band, is aptly named. Specializing in bar-flavored rock and roll with guitar tones like rusty pocketknives, Hadacol delivers a potent blend of roots rock that’s equal parts Sun Records, Jason & the Scorchers, and the Georgia Satellites (there, that comparison should be enough to scare off those averse to twang).
All in Your Head starts off in traditional fashion, with a high lonesome vocal that gives way to the honky tonk trot of “Down Again”. Next is “Watch It Burn”, which tells the story of a fire and the townspeople who flock to watch it, who even set out picnics to better admire the show (as a Southerner in a town with its fair share of mill fires, I can attest to the song’s true-life snapshot quality). Guitar notes flicker like flames throughout the song, offering a nice counterpoint to Fred Wickham’s elegiac vocals. Kicking things up a notch, songs like “All in Your Head” offer insults with twangy power chords to match. After a scant three songs, you realize that Hadacol could survive a night on any chicken-wire fortified roadhouse stage in the country; they offer up love letters to lost loves (“Libby’s Song”), a lost America (“Another Day”), and lost nights with equal sincerity.
Hadacol’s strength rests somewhere in the middle, though, where the extremes merge. “Already Broken” boasts lovely harmonies and an urgent vibe as Wickham sings, “An inch of water don’t seem like a lot / Until you’re drownin’ an inch from the top.” The song occupies familiar terrain—the goodbye at romance’s end—but the defiance of the chorus (“You can’t break me / I’m already broken”) takes the song to higher ground. “Little Sadie” is a traditional murder ballad (and Doc Watson staple), but Hadacol turns it into a super-charged guitar romp. It’s like someone taking the old Dodge Dart your grandfather used to drive around on Sundays, and using it for a breakneck bootlegging run down the mountainside.
Hadacol’s ability to weave the old and the new is surprisingly strong. One of the pitfalls of the whole Americana movement seems to be that bands either show too much reverence for the past (resulting in carbon-copy nostalgia), or they pay lip service without ever truly feeling the fire. Hadacol’s retro allegiances are obvious, but while a song like “Dump Truck” has the same bedrock as nearly every uptempo country song before it, the slightly dissonant vocals and occasional off-key notes betray an informed post-punk sensibility. Ditto for the less than reverent “Gerald Ford”, which uses the former president as a metaphor for a drunken lost weekend. “Airplane Song” even shows a glimmer of Ramones bounce. Hadacol truly gets the idea of presenting this music through a modern lens.
All in Your Head is only Hadacol’s second release (after 1999’s Better than This), and the band’s style already seems fully realized. For many, they’ll easily fill the void left by a band like the now disbanded V-Roys. Hadacol isn’t doing anything revolutionary (and that doesn’t even seem to fall into their agenda), but they’re providing a satisfying mixture of homespun poetry and modern guitar adrenaline that’s sorely lacking in even the vaunted Americana ranks. The whole alt-country scene may never break out of its niche role in the popular mindset, but bands like Hadacol validate the hopes that have been pinned on the genre. Exemplifying a no-fuss style of music, Hadacol are already a potent force. Who knows what heights they’re capable of?
// Notes from the Road
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