Of all the punk-gone-folk troubadours, Chuck Ragan is easily one of the more palatable. His gravelly bellow—that same voice that rooted Hot Water Music in gritty, melodic punk, then faultlessly carried Ragan through two solo alt-country records—is as ever-present on the new Covering Ground. The third effort from Ragan is a tour diary, a travel-weary reflection on a life spent mostly in transition. And though he’s no stranger to being on the road, Covering Ground shows where the cracks have started to grow in the asphalt.
There’s a well-worn cliché at work here: lone man on a dusty highway with nothing to lose and not much more to gain, a guitar by his side and a love lost to time and distance. Ragan doesn’t mess around with overstated metaphors or obscure references; his verses are written in first person and his choruses are soul-baring declarations. And though the record fumbles at parts with being almost too simplistic, Ragan never lingers on any one song long enough for it to matter.
The major embellishes on Covering Ground mostly come from outside players: the fiddle work from Jon Gaunt, the low end from bassist Joe Ginsberg, as well as guest spots from Frank Turner, Audra Mae, and Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem, among others. The one thing about continuously being on the move is that there are always new friends to be made and new tales to be spun. And Ragan is a veteran storyteller who makes old refrains (“I’m coming home before long,” for instance, on “Nomad By Fate”) sound new again. Or at least he has a way of making it feel like the truth.