Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist... Published author (https://www.amazon.com/Sins-Fathers-S-Gepp-ebook/dp/B07XBDP2RF/) & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 27th 2019
At 70-plus, Hagar's still got it
I guess like most people of my generation, I first heard of Sammy Hagar when, in 1985 (I was 14), he replaced David Lee Roth as lead singer of Van Halen, adding a second guitar to their line-up at the same time. This resulted in some of Van Halen's best songs (in my opinion). Then he left. And, for most people, I guess that would be it.
However, he has not rested on his laurels. He formed the frankly brilliant band Chickenfoot, he founded a Tequila company, which he subsequently sold for a huge wad of money, he's started a rum company, he does radio and TV… a bit of everything really.
But first and foremost, he is a rock musician, and that brings us to his latest band and their debut studio album: Sammy Hagar & The Circle, Space Between (2019).
The Circle consists of Hagar on lead vocals and (I would guess) some guitar, Vic Johnson on guitar and backing vocals, Michael Anthony (former long-term member of Van Halen) on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Jason Bonham (son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John and a phenomenal drummer in his own right) on drums.
The album is a short one – around 35 minutes – and its sound is akin to the classic rock of the 1970s. It is also a concept album, basically putting forth the proposition that money is not the root of all evil, but greed. (It would be picky of me to point out that the Bible says, "For the love of money is the root of all evil…" [1 Timothy 6:10], but who am I to judge?) in a series of songs that are, well, very good. This is also an album that needs to be listened through, beginning to end, in the order presented. No shuffle, no picking a track at a time – this is an album that works best when played straight through. I guess in that sense, the concept album aspect worked well.
One other thing before I hit the music – Sammy Hagar is in his 70s as I write this, and his vocal chops are still amazing. It is hard to remember his age when listening to this album…
'Devil Came To Philly'. This is a dirty blues rock track that is dominated by Hagar's voice and some driving guitar. But the voice is what opens up the album. This is not a clean, autotuned production – this is a band that sounds like they would be more at home in the pubs of the world than a studio. And at just 2 and a half minutes, it hardly outstays its welcome. And it leads directly into the next track through some powering drumming.
'Full Circle Jam (Chump Change)'. This amps up the rock level, sounding like something the early hard rock bands would have put out. This is a band track, not a Hagar track, and the guitar outro is just superb. One of my favourites on the album.
'Can't Hang'. This has a distinct country feel, like the sort of thing Bon Jovi's 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' was aiming for, but here, it hits that target full on. The guitar sounds awesome and it has a pounding beat that just drives it along relentlessly.
'Wide Open Space'. Things slow down for this track, the sort of track I could imagine Bruce Springsteen having as shot at. And the backing vocals really add to this one. A nice change of pace.
'Free Man'. We go straight into this track from the last, with a much heavier beat, a feel of anger, and lyrics that are straight to the point: "Give me back my money/ Give me back my land/ Give me back my bullets/…I gotta be a free man…" Even the guitar playing has a sense of anger about it. Strong track.
'Bottom Line'. This is not as heavy, almost that sort of 80s rock Hagar did with Van Halen, though with less synthesiser. This rocks along well, giving yet another shade to the album. It's not all balls-to-the-wall rock-out; it is a bit of everything.
'No Worries'. This has a chugging beat underlying a song that, like the one it follows, is a little lighter in tone. And the chorus, with its backing vocals, soars like a sense of joy. "Lay on the beach drinking rum…" indeed. I like the way the drumming in this track holds it all together. Another favourite.
'Trust Fund Baby'. We up the rock a little, and yet this track has a definite sound of the sort of classic rock I love a little too much. Driven along by some awesome drumming, it's got the sort of chorus a stadium of people will sing along to. A definite highlight.
'Affirmation'. This song is another rocker, opening with harmonising vocals and then hitting with Hagar in full flight, and back to the harmonising. A good track.
'Hey Hey (Without Greed)'. And we close out with a song that sounds similar to the opener, 'Devil Came To Philly', although with more instrumentation and the backing vocals in more force. It gives the album that "full circle" feel, and rounds it off really well. The opening guitar, to me, had a hint of Supertramp, and then the vocals hit and it is such a cool way to finish off the album.
Now, I did not find a track I didn't like on this album, but, like I said, I feel it needs to be listened all the way through to get that full sense of it. Call it a song cycle, and that will probably do it.
Okay, rant time. What frustrates me is that older rockers release albums like this, with such great music, such good tracks, such wonderful musicianship, and people like me only hear about them through friends or because we're signed up to mailing lists or the like. I know the younger public wants their teeny-bopper music, but there are a lot of older music lovers who want to hear the stuff by the people we liked growing up, and we have the jobs and the money to be able to pay for it. And yet the radio programmers, the record company promotions departments, the TV programmers ignore that chunk of the population that has the disposable income, who don't want to buy a single song from whatever market is left out there, and want a whole album we can put on and just enjoy. A quick look through my own archives will show there have been more albums I have liked enough to write about from the so-called "old guard" than the younger generations of singers, musicians, etc. From the start of July 2019 to now, August 2019, I have written 8 reviews of new albums. Only 2 have been by newer singers. I have, however, bought or been given 19 albums in that time frame. That means 11 have not made it here. And I'll say only 2 of those 11 have been by older, established artists. Anyway, that's my rant.
And, in the meantime, grab this album. It is really good. Sammy Hagar has hit another one out of the park.