Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The Hatters - The Madcap Adventures of the Avocado Overlord
Ok, straight up, guys. Pop quiz time.
What was the best damn album of 1994 that you never heard? Well, since we already know that the average Ripple reader is vastly more intelligent than the rest of our saccharine illiterati, I'll bet you simply looked up at the title of this post to the get the answer. And yes, oh loyal reader, there it is, the Hatters in all their glory, creators of clearly the best, unheard album of 1994.
Now, in truth, it's not hard to see why no one picked this little gem up. First of all, take a look at the album art. Someone at Atlantic Records art department should've been beheaded for releasing that monstrosity onto the world. It frightens me just looking at it. But in the end, the boys got no one to blame but themselves. Check out that mouthful of an album title. Really, there can't be too many people clamoring to hear an album about an avocado overlord no matter how madcap his adventures might be.
But, let's put all that behind us, if we can, and focus on the music, because, damn, this is one fine album.
The Hatters, formed in Philly then moved to New York were they traveled in the same jam band circles as Blues Traveler (in fact John Popper lends a hand on one track) and that association gives you a starting point for where these guys were coming from. But to label them as merely a jam band would be doing them a grave disservice. With expert musicianship, a true gift for melody and the most soulful vocals coming from a white boy since Greg Allman, the Hatters were a devastating blues rock outfit. Think of them as the Allman Brothers for the nineties, with a smattering of country flavor and a true classic rock heart.
"Sacrifice," starts the gig off with a beautiful 70's rock riff, dropping right into funky scratching guitars before the song morphs into the gorgeous piano strains of "Bring That Wagon Down." But as good as those two songs are, The Madcap Adventures is that rarest of albums where each song that follows is actually better than the one before. Think about that for a moment. Usually a band load up the front end of an album with all their best stuff, saving the filler for the end. When was the last time you could say that an album actually got better as it played on?
Musically, there's not a weak link. The dual guitar work of Adam Hirsh and Adam Evans is stellar, fiery, easily on par with that of the best of the jam bands, rocking harder than Phish or Widespread Panic. Each note from the blistering solos is perfectly selected, never noodling, just refined. The rhythm section of Jon Kaplan and Tommy Kaelin never falters, and never overwhelms the song, rather each component blends perfectly, keeping the melodies in the forefront. But perhaps the Hatters greatest secret weapon (other than the incredible vocals of Adam Hirsh, which we'll get to later) is the piano work of Billy Jay Stein. No matter how hard these guys are rocking or flying off into jam band nirvana, Stein's beautifully melodic playing keeps the songs grounded in a very accessible pop structure. Some of his melodies and passages are so beautiful, you could easily envision an entire chamber orchestra picking up the melody and running away with it.
Now, for Hirsh's vocals. Trust me, if you like a guy to reveal his passion with every syllable, bear his heart with each word, Hirsh is the guy for you. His voice squeaks, cracks and at times, nearly yoddles across the melody. "I Could Be The One," is a love-near-breakup song of amazing passion and honesty, a capsule of exactly what each one of us has wanted to say, at one time or another, to our lover, when things seemed to be falling apart. The soul and pain in Hirsh's voice, tripping and dipping across Stein's piano chords, is so intense you can't help but feel it. I swear, every time I hear that song, it almost brings a tear to my eye. Yes, I'm getting misty now just thinking about it.
"Bad Side," "Empty Handed," and "Sip of Your Wine," should appeal to every fan of classic rock, blazing guitars and mean riffs. "Dig the Ribbit," gets up and funks in a down home way as Hirsh coveys the joys of frog jumping. "Madness of the Green," and "Found With Your Drawers Down," are fierce rockers, with extended funky jams. Meanwhile, "For Tomorrow," and "The Last Walt," are quite simply, beautiful.
I've played this album for nearly anyone I could corner and block from escaping. Yes, even the local grocer. And truth be told, everyone who's heard it has always responded with that same wide-eyed, god-damn-where-did-you-find-this look of appreciation. I must have purchased and passed this CD out 10 times at least. It really is that good.
Unfortunately, The Hatters couldn't translate their incredible work into financial success. A live album that preceeded Madcap and a second full-length CD finished them off, leaving the world just a little more barren. Adam Hirsh is still recording, as Tree Adams, Billy Jay Stein is up and running at Strange Cranium and Jon Kaplan has become a sought after produceer and mixer, working with such bands as Maroon 5, B-52's and Ray Lamontagne. You can find their websites below. But whatever you do, don't miss this moment of Hatters magic. They really did capture lightning in a bottle, and Hirsh is the man to sings its praises right to your front door.
Makes me wish I knew what a damn avocado overlord was anyways. --Racer
Buy here: The Madcap Adventures of the Avocado Overlord
www.treeadams.com (Adam Hirsh)
www.strangecranium.com (Billy Jay Stein)
www.jonkaplanproducer.com (Jon Kaplan)