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The Howling Hex | 123 (Drag City)
I have a friend who is a vinyl obsessive and a huge Neil Hagerty fan. Exactly the sort of person who Hagerty was targeting with his three vinyl-only albums, all limited to 500 copies, and released between the last Hagerty solo album and his first as The Howling Hex.  I don't have a record player any more (it's a temporary phase, I'll get one again some day), but I'm just as big a Hagerty nut, so I asked him what the records were like. "Well," he told me, "it's his more experimental stuff."
Right, I thought.  As much as I love Royal Trux's 'Twin Infinitives' and 'Hand of Glory', I'm not much of a fan of 'The Radio-Video' EP, and the first Hagerty album--the musique concrete one--is my least favourite. So, given that the vinyl albums seemed a brief phase and Hagerty was soon releasing as many as two CDs a year, I assumed I'd be able to live without the vinyl releases, which had sold out immediately anyway and never show up on eBay.
Now, though, Drag City has put out a collection of almost all the material from those three LPs and I discover my friend is a liar. I don't know whether he worried that if he said it was good I'd want to borrow them or something, but not only are these records not particularly experimental, they also include the best material Hagerty's ever written. For the first time ever, the decision to disband Royal Trux doesn't seem like one of the worst ideas anyone's ever come up with. It also plugs an essential gap, showing how Hagerty moved from the country-rock of 'Neil Michael Hagerty Plays That Good Old Rock and Roll' to the more complex sound of last year's two releases.  There are sketches of songs that are more fully fleshed out on later releases, but even these don't sound like demos, but rather different, and equally appealing versions of first-rate tracks.
If you've never heard Hagerty before this is definitely the place to start; if you're a fan who doesn't have the vinyl, you need this CD; if you have the vinyl, well, the songs are in a different order, and they work so successfully here that you probably need this too.

Matt Thorne
April 2006