Agitated Atmosphere: Hans Chew – Tennessee and Other Stories

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Hans Chew.

There exists a schism between country and everything else. The dividing line stands defiant; the idea that down home, red meat loving folk are drawn to songs of love and loss that speak to a lifestyle not on par with the rest of the world. But deep within this rift exists an equally impactful separation: those who embrace the bright lights and slick production of the new country ‘pop’ exploding across radio and television find themselves at odds with those of prefer their brand of country dirty and dark. The latter is fond of the tramps and ramblers of blues and folk now absent from the musical world since the death of Woody Guthrie. The blurry line where the smartest music lover realizes that without country, the trinity of music’s birth would cease to exist as it does—the good with the bad.

Hans Chew has found himself a healthy plot on this piece of thinking. The idea that country is more than Gram Parsons get-ups, pick-up trucks, and women in cowboy boots and midriffs t-shirts may seem foreign to a generation that only knows of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but there was a time when country was a vehicle for articulate storytelling and intricate rhythms. Jointly released via Three Lobed and new imprint, Divided By Zero (both of which also released the preceding Hans Chew 7-inch earlier this year), Tennessee and Other Stories captures the forgotten sounds of country — boogie, rhythm and blues, and folk — and hocks its loogie into the saloon spittoon with attitude.

Listen to “New Cypress Grove Boogie”:

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As a member of The Helix (backing Dave Shuford’s D. Charles Speer persona), Chew’s honky-tonk piano aimed to reclaim the unique fun country once possessed before it was turned into neat packages meant for PG consumption. Tennessee and Other Stories is the music of juke joints and broken down bar rooms–songs to spill a few tears over, melodies to make you dance, and stories to make you think. It’s all country should ever do to put itself in a strong position to win over more than its base.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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