PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Ugly Stick: Pick Up the Hatchet

Ohio heroes reissue historically important, artistically unsurprising 1989 and 1991 releases.

Ugly Stick

Pick Up the Hatchet

Label: Hover Craft
US Release Date: 2011-07-12
UK Release Date: 2011-04-12

As a voracious collector of and enthusiast for local and regional music in my own corner of the world, I automatically have a soft spot for Ugly Stick. The group formed in the microscopic Delaware, Ohio and went on to be hailed as the defining act of the Columbus sound. While other critics have claimed that the quartet somehow managed to capture the spirit of a dive bar, Ugly Stick is hardly alone in this modest feat. Midwestern highways and cheap motels are littered with the carcasses of countless other bands that could make such claims. So, when it comes down to it, Ugly Stick was great for Columbus and good for Ohio.

Of course, the group's story is fairly familiar -- plenty of DIY releases culminating in an undeniable classic, shows played for no one at home and on the road, and the inevitable disbandment-and-reunion cycle. Pick Up the Hatchet is comprised of the group's cassette-only self-titled release (1989) and the follow-up Shaved (1991). The self-titled affair is remarkably well produced, sounding thoroughly mid -- rather than low -- budget. As for the content? Listening to these songs more than twenty years after they were first committed to tape, it's not hard to see why Ugly Stick became a popular live band -- the songs are high in the energy quotient, littered with the occasional off-color remark, racing tempos, and vocals you kind of feel like you could nail yourself if only given the chance. In its way, Ugly Stick calls to mind early Soul Asylum and even a dash of the Replacements.

But the writing ain't all that: most of the 14 songs here are half-baked, devolving into what are either inside jokes or racing tempos meant, perhaps unconsciously, to make good for other shortcomings. By the midway mark ("Jug Day"), the first disc has pretty much worn out its welcome. Sure, there are moments of pleasure ("Ma, I Burnt the Kettle", "Stiff Family Robinson", "Oh, Chancellor"), but it's evident that the group had not yet mastered the art of songwriting. This first disc is a great find for hardcore fans and maybe even bright young hopefuls who dream of making it to the low rungs of the middle, but holds little interest for the newcomer or casual listener.

As for the second disc? Two years hadn't changed the lads all that much. The tempos are crazed, the lyrics largely toss-offs, and everything, it seems -- including the production -- got sloppier. "Neighbor's Neighborhood" is fun enough and probably went down well in the live setting; "Bless Me Cut Me Kill Me" has attitude enough, if not all the skill, but "Pick Up the Hatchet (All My Troubles Keep Gettin' Worse)" and "Fast Cars and Fast Women" verge on painful, both stretching the quartet's imagination far beyond its talents. "Station Wagon" is good fun, a skillfully crafted paean to the ultimate love wagon, while "Tunnel of Love" is an appropriately ridiculous 50-second blast of hilarity. But that, as they say, is about it.

Pick Up the Hatchet is a fine historical artifact, but a twin slab of joy it ain’t.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.