Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Al Goldberg
Part retrospective, part preview of an upcoming album and concept show, Hamell on Trial’s performance at the Steamer No. 10 Theatre in Albany was one for the ages. A small but fervent crowd of music fans came in from the cold and got to see one of the best, most prolific songwriters in America up close and personal.
After an introduction by Michael Eck, Hamell dressed in black strode out onto the stage, plugged in his vintage Gibson acoustic and gave a prologue for the night about how his years in Syracuse as a working musician and bartender in an infamous venue had brought him face to face with “the disenfranchised.” Many of the songs during the evening delved into how the other half lives, with Hamell virtually channeling Jacob Riis, Woody Guthrie, Joe Strummer and James Ellroy in a torrent of vivid, heartrending and sometimes unsettling (and often quite funny) lyrics. In between the songs were jokes and stories ranging from corny to wry to obscene – in other words, it was like entering a spectacular microcosm where irreverence topples all pretense and conventional wisdom. Even Hamell himself stepped off microphone to ask the rapt audience late in the second set, “Is any of this linear?”