The Hangmen release records when they want to release records. The Hangmen don’t seem to have a mapped out plan to their rock and Roll and it would seem have a more organic approach, a natural approach to what they do. The one thing that shines like a beacon is when they do decide its time to put out a record its always quality and well worth the wait.
‘Cactusville’ is the group’s new record their first since 2012 and builds on ‘East Of Western’ with subtle string and harmonies in their arrangements. It still has their hallmark country-infused punk style and attitude, The Hangmen have penned a record that singer and guitarist Bryan Small describes as “A fully realized effort.”
It’s dark at times but, its also glorious technicolour, Small’s songwriting stands in contrast from his Los Angeles peers, choosing to chronicle outlaw folklore and broken romances, The Hangmen are in the house and whilst keeping their identity and the style that fans love they have finally returned with newly found urgency.
Being unhappy with aspects of the last studio album Smalls was determined to wright what he saw as the previous records wrongs and then The Hangmen went on what Small called a ‘forced hiatus’, prompting longtime bassist Angelique Congleton to ask if the band existed or would even resume.
Small felt sufficient time had passed and began writing but with no plan in mind, who knows how long it might take him to follow it up. Thankfully Smalls must have been inspired and the music began to flow. Congleton kept active with her chef position while Small continued spending time with his family.
‘Cactusville’ might be slightly darker and the songs more measured than ‘East Of Western’ it might be partly due to the revolving door of band members this time new drummer Jorge E. Disguster takes the stool along with Smalls and longtime six string companion Jimmy James.
“I know we’ve had a lot of lineups since that first record back in ’86 but I believe in the songs, still play some of those tracks. Looking back to when I first saw Jimmy James play, I loved how simple yet powerful he was. I knew he was the right guitarist for me. Angelique has been with me since ‘Metallic I.O.U.’ came out and I’m grateful because playing in a band is never really easy, and I wouldn’t say The Hangmen are what people would consider a full-time thing. We don’t really have the infrastructure that other groups do. Social media is dominating and of course every band uses it but for me, it’s like pulling teeth to use. Jorge is interested in doing that and Acetate has done more for us than Capitol Records ever did back in the day, that experience ended up being such a joke,”.
Here and now the record starts with the title track and with a laid back groove it’s a sonic masterclass sounding like Smalls has indeed put previous production foibles to bed and moved on with a bright and roomy opener. With a lead guitar that sits on top of the mix giving it a real air of quality and you’ll stop what you’re doing to check out who and what your hearing. ‘Looking For Blood’ is more upbeat with a swagger in the rhythm and its got handclaps so I’m all in.
Some of the guitar work on this record is exceptional. Not in the fact they’re doing anything groundbreaking but they sound like a pair of guitarists who just click and feed off each other. ‘Man In Blacks Hand’ has got a cool as guitar lick and its the sound of a writer who knows what he’s after and what he’s steeped in and should rightfully be proud of these songs marrying a great lick to a recognisable sound isn’t an easy thing in 2019 but this is 100% Hangmen but it does sound fresh at the same time. Those country-tinged phrasings come to the fore on ‘Nobody’s Girl’ and the subtle strings fill the sound making it sound huge but Smalls snarl trading off the guitar lick is great and by the time you hit the chorus you should be nodding like a dog.
Never wanting to overstay their welcome The Hangmen keep it to a super solid nine tracks on ‘Cactusville’ with ‘Cold Memory Blues’ is the lap steel countrified inner city blues that Smalls writes so well. It’s widescreen Rock and Roll alright and is the cover artwork in music. ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ is a beautiful song with some fantastic harmonies and exceptional arrangments. A record that just keeps on giving play after play it goes through the gears but remains totally The Hangmen old fans will be delighted with the songwriting quality and new fans will be wondering how they’ve been so late to the party. Take a trip on the dark side of the Hollywood tracks where the Hangmen dwell just out of sight from the glitz and fake glamour this is where the real beauty lies. The album closer is the acoustic-driven ‘Don’t Look Back’ thats heartbreaking in delivery as Smalls croons with his trusty acoustic before being joined by the rest of the band. Who then weave and meander through over six minutes of what it’s fair to describe as an epic journey with some stunning guitar breaks.
‘Cactusville’ is pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear on a new Hangmen record and they bloody well nailed it. Hopefully, this will light a fire under Smalls songwriting timeline and we won’t have to wait so long between records and it would be awesome if the band would come to the UK. I’d be there, would you? Stunning new album buy it!
Buy Cactusville Here
Author: Dom Daley