White Hassle – Life is Still Sweet – Review

White Hassle

Life is Still Sweet (Orange)
by Jon Sarre

Marce Hall may not be the Dylan-come-lately he probably wishes he were (at least that’s what I once accused him of tryin’ to be, to wit, I seem to recall, he called me a “moron”), but then again, neither is anyone, least of all Bob Dylan – at least not in the last thirty years. Whether or not he’s shootin’ for that (which he wouldn’t say anyhow, cuz he claims this originality that comes from livin’ in a Zimmerman-sized ego), the guy is the author of plenty of relatively amusin’ turns of phraseology, some a little too irony-rich, but then again, he was doin’ that long ‘fore pop culture caught up to his schtick and more important, lotsa interestingly-structured songs, mostly based ’round jangly pop sorta ideas or strip-mined alt-rock structurisms landmined with his own slights of hand to keep heard-it-all-before hipsters from yawnin’ in his face. His previous outfit (if they have indeed broken up), Railroad Jerk, never reaped the accolades of slackerdom, but they fuckin’ shoulda if college radio believed in God, but there’s no accountin’ there (ah, the DJs all graduate, sooner or later).

White Hassle, originally a side-project duo consisting of Hall and RRJ drummer Dave Varenka (now a trio with the addition of guitarist Matt Oliverio) comes atcha as a folkier (mebbe Fat Albert’s Junkyard Bandier) continuum of Marce Hall’s pop eccentricities, a quieter Railroad Jerk with pots’n’pans percussion. Their Matador debut, National Chain, had ’em tacklin’ Hank Williams, George Jones, the Everlys’n’Ray Charles, along with Hall and Varenka fauxin’ the faux alt-country and spielin’ like Dylan did in his patented “Cap’n Ahrab”(whatever that song offa Highway 61 or Bringing it All Back Home was called, help me out, Marce)’n'”Lily, Rose Mary and the Jack of Hearts,” confusion-is-next tales. Life is Still Sweet, tho’ hi-fier than National Chain (‘cept on the Woodie Gutheriesque “2 Fingers Cross’d”) inches Hall further back towards the “accessibility” he seemed to be workin’ towards with Railroad Jerk. They’ve added turntable scratches and violin (one nod to the club kids ain’t bad, I suppose), but kept Hall’s mumbo-jumbo word association as songwritin’ around, cuz that’s why anyone’s gonna listen to this in the first place. They’ve only done an EP here, unfortunately, but the chuggy bossa nova tempoed “Watertank” and the title track are real solid examples of how these guys do things. If ya want more, seek out the first White Hassle and the second and third Railroad Jerk LPs while yer at it. S’probably worth yer time.
(520 W Erie LL Chicago, IL 60610)