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 (Adam Hirsh) (Billy Jay Stein) (Jon Kaplan)


The English Department said...

Their bass player was HOT. Shame about the bout of gout though.

Anonymous said...

Definitely a great record. For what it's worth, The Hatter's bass player Jon Kaplan has also become a highly sought after producer, engineer and mixer in NYC. His credits are impressive and include Ray Lamontagne, B52's, Maroon 5, The Starting Line, Gavin Degraw and Ingrid Michaelson to name just a few.
His web site is:

Unknown said...

Thanks for remembering.


Frank said...

The Hatters played our fraternity house in the fall of 1994. I went to school down South, so I believe it was a way to get the word out in the colleges. Needless to say, it was an AWESOME show and one well remmebered on the G TEch campus. Thanks very much!

Frank said...

This was a good band. I just lost my last post, but wanted to say the few times they went down South (into Georgia) were much appreciated. Some of this group's best stuff never made it to album (US Postal song... or something like that ... I don't know, I had a bootleg of it). Anyway. Thanks for the memories!

Unknown said...

maybe the most underrated band of the last 20 years. Saw them at least 8 times, mostly in small venues where I couldnt believe they were a new band, as they had the old world, classic sound of the great ones.
and they were nice guys, happy to talk, get to know you.

The review of the album is pitch perfect and reminds me why I went 5 years listening to it everyday, and while I still hum their tunes with pride.

Last Walt said...

I had the chance to see these guys a couple of times. Still one of my favorite bands. Live Thunderchicken and Madcap Adventures are still on the current rotation. I'd love to get my hands on some bootlegs if anybody know where I can find any?

The Ripple Effect said...

Last Walt,

Hang tight. We may have some very exciting new Hatters news to share with you and the new Ripple Music Record Label.

Big stuff . . .

MetalFRO said...

I am SO glad I found this post! I have been a fan of this album for going on 12 years now, and I too am amazed at all the folks who have never heard of this incredible band. I heard of them years before when a friend went to see Collective Soul on their 1st tour and said The Hatters opened for them. He said they were good, but didn't buy the CD. I wish he had, because I would have discovered this awesome album way back then. Yeah, the title and goofy artwork throws people for a loop, but what a fantastic album! This is a perfect mixture of modern blues, rock, some alternative, and just rootsy music. Tremendous musicianship displayed here, and fantastic songwriting. Everything on this album is memorable, and the whole thing is just top shelf. I, too, have tried to introduce this album to several people, most of which have taken to it and enjoyed it. Probably not nearly as much as I have, but at least more people know about it!

Anonymous said...

What new Hatters news? I'v been checking back here for months and nothing has been updated. I would kill for new Hatters anything... videos, recordings, interviews ANYTHING!

Please update!!!

You're killing me.

The Ripple Effect said...

Guys, thanks for your interest. We're not trying to drag out the suspense, just waiting until details get worked out.

But as you may know, we run a record label, Ripple Music. And we've had some nice conversations with Billy Jay Stein and Adam Hirsh, and . . .

News will come. Hopefully soon.

The Last Walt said...

Any further developments with regards to your conversations with Adam and Billy?

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