"It's the end of an era." Neil Hagerty was talking to bass player and Papa M mastermind Dave Pajo backstage at Atlanta's Echo Lounge in the midst of a rare January ice storm last year. He was discussing how the king's ransom he and Ms. Jennifer Herrema got from Virgin was gone, sunk into housing, cars and money market funds. "It's the end of an era," he said. Now I think about that sentence and the terse news this week. The new Neil Hagerty solo record. Royal Trux have broken up, gone the way of the wind, the end of an era.
Instead of a bowl of spilled cherries, the cover is a collage of Mr. Hagerty’s many guitar necks and a shot of him looking rather fore lone with heavy stubble and a glance of despair. Perhaps this photo was taken after his football team the Raiders tanked in the playoffs. The publicity says “it’s a collection of songs written about (and sung to) other people”. Simultaneously it’s a strictly personal, non-conversational record because in fact Mr. Hagerty played all the instruments by himself. For the first time in 15 years he hasn’t had to ask opinions of anyone except the record button. It’s an elaborate letter dictated through a mega-mister-microphone, and once ya get past the cursive script and blue lined notebook paper, some of the songs are pretty good.
The actual virtual NMH—as it is conveyed in the press release, the use of the Neil the Michael and the Hagerty as if summing up this CD contains it all, every facet—it starts off with one of his patented quirky riffs leading to his keyboards echo and the percussion is minimal (perhaps in response to the last three drum laden RTX records). It’s a nice song, it has a white boy light reggae feel to it (like a lost Walls & Bridges track) though the chorus sounds like a reworking of the Hues Corporation, but that’s the same conceptual 74 twilight so it links up. The second song has an irresistible keyboard opening, a nice catchy riff that sounds like something from the “Saucerful” Rick Wright—it sounds like he’s trying to find a voice you know because the first song has a high pitched vocal styling and the second he sorta speak sings his way through it—not the throaty snarl of years gone past but like he’s trying to sing up the back of his throat. His organ backs the usual incredible solo.
We pull into Hagerty’s Truckstop for the third track, “repeat the sound of joy” he sings over a harp, some maracas and pleasantly strumming acoustic guitars. Really beautiful, just a country off ramp. Carnival sounds. Street music. The companion country song “The Menace” has Neil sawing away on a viola and he plays one of those plastic kazoos he flourished on the VOD tour and he tells a story song about seeing an enemy of the people and his whispering and telling the story. The Menace. These are songs about Neil talking to people, he says: “all the songs are straight up, no more propaganda parodies for me. What did that get me but too much money and obsessive fans.” Hmm, the menace. Whelp, Neil will be debuting his new band called the “Stupid Losers” on March 21 & 22nd in Asheville at Vincent’s Ear. Longtime Trux veteran Ken Nasta will be playing drums, along with NY percussionist Tim Barnes and bassist Mike Fellows (Royal Trux, Silver Jews, Bonnie Prince Billy). If it’s the end of an era the solo gigs are the beginning of another era. Or it’s all part of the same era and I’m in error.