Album Review: The Hangmen – “Cactusville”
One of the hardest working bands on the US scuzz circuit, the Hangmen have been slugging it out in the bars of the western US states for over three decades now. Originally hailed as the next big thing on the LA scene around the time the ’80s turned into the ’90s, a dysfunctional streak so wide as to make the Wildhearts look positively normal ensured that their stay in major label land was cut short after one album, with various band members serving stints in rehab and jail in the years that followed. As the 21st century dawned though, they picked themselves up the floor and have been going strong ever since, with Cactusville being their fifth album (or sixth if you’re counting their mini-album In The City), and their first since 2012’s East Of Western.
Musically, it initially seems as though it’s what you’d expect from the band ,with Jimmy James’ sneering Stiv Bators style vocals suiting the title track’s tales of life on the gig circuit equivalent of skid row. Elsewhere, the snarling Looking For Blood sounds like an amped-up Stones and the swaggering Death Valley is LA Guns with the scumminess turned up to ten.
As the album goes on though, a more reflective sound starts to become evident on the acoustic-led almost countrified blues rock of Cold Memory Blues and Don’t Count Me Out. And surprisingly it works perfectly – there’s a definite authenticity to these laments that can only come from having lived the sort of down-at-heel life that James and co have endured.
By the time it winds up with the yearning Don’t Look Back, you’ll definitely have heard a side to the Hangmen that you maybe weren’t expecting, and been pleasantly surprised by how well they’ve carried it off. Similar to their Acetate records labelmates the Supersuckers’ Must’ve Been High, this is a band showing off another side of their repertoire and doing it well.
The Hangmen have always been a quality wrong-side-of-the-tracks rock 'n' roll band but "Cactusville" shows a more thoughtful side to their repertoire and does it in style. Owing as much to Johnny Cash as it does to Keith Richards, this is a damn good effort and is the sound of a band adding another string to their bow with some panache. Well worth a listen.