American Babies: American Babies

By: Bill Clifford

Often, a songwriter's catalyst comes from their past. Tom Hamilton found the inspiration for his latest songs in the music he was reared on, classic artists such as Merle Haggard, John Prine, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. These new songs, however, don't resemble the electronic tinged art rock he'd been recording with the progressive leaning Brothers Past. Instead, they are acoustic pop songs, the first of which he wrote, "American Babies," gives its name to Hamilton's new band and its eponymous debut.

Hamilton recorded American Babies (SCI Fidelity) with a stellar cast of musicians, including his bass playing brother Jim and drummer Joe Russo (Benevento/Russo Duo). Aron Magner (The Disco Biscuits) added piano on several tracks while guitarist Scott Metzger (RANA, Particle) joined the band later. Musically speaking, there is lush, organic instrumentation including piano, organ, vibraphone, Mellotron, violin and cello. But, given the aforementioned list of inspirations, American Babies is not the rueful country jaunt one might expect. Rather, it's a warm, earthy trip up the Pacific Coast Highway reminiscent of The Beach Boys or The Eagles.

Opener "Invite Your Friends" is a bubbly, radio friendly ode to a lover and the protagonist wants to share that love with his partner's friends. Vibraphone mixes with spry steel and acoustic guitars. The mood and tone darken on "Swimming At Night," a somber take on being unafraid of a watery grave. The previously mentioned "American Babies" features a rich string section and a trio of female vocalists on the chorus. Magner's exquisite piano plays well against Hamilton's acoustic guitar and the bevy of voices in the chorus, and the final verse swells to a stunning crescendo.

Two of the CDs strongest songs fall at the center. "Brooklyn Bridge" runs on an upbeat and fast tempo, driven by stark acoustic guitar and abundant strings, with added steel guitar flourishes. It's one of the most rock-oriented songs with thumping bass and drums and a dual electric guitar solo. Lyrically, it's an epic love song to a wild and eccentric femme fatal. "Floating" is much more of an acoustic rocker with vibraphone and backing female vocals. It's a lovely ditty that begs for radio play. Closer "Never Be Loved Like This Again" is a gorgeous dirge filled out by Hamilton's boisterous vocals, acoustic strums, Magner's elegant piano and somber cello.

American Babies was originally released independently, but is now seeing wider distribution and re-release thanks to SCI Fidelity . Fans shouldn't be fooled by the labels' jam roots or the plethora of progressive talent that fills out the line-up since this music is far more straight ahead, stunning heartland pop. The indefinite hiatus of Brothers Past has given way to the beautiful, graceful music of American Babies, which deserves to be heard, nurtured and allowed to evolve.

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aquariumdrunk starstarstarstar Mon 4/14/2008 07:24AM
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Wow -- glad to hear this is going to receive a label backed release! Better late than never, right? Also, props to Bill Clifford for avoiding the obvious Ryan Adams comparisons, as they're a little tough to miss at first. Hamilton's songwriting is strong enough to stand on its own merits.

Lakai star Mon 4/14/2008 08:07AM
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hamilton should just get back with brothers past and they should replace illya with Johnny Raab

MaseBase Mon 4/14/2008 11:22AM
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Great album!

DibS starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/15/2008 03:46PM
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Interesting. Hamilton rocked with BP, I wish they would come back, lets see what happens with this.

raygilly Tue 4/15/2008 04:15PM
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sci fidelity is the beez kneez yo! i can't wait to see these guys at high sierra!

FreshFlavor star Tue 4/15/2008 04:26PM
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Brothers Past blows Babies out of the water. No comparison. Nothing even mildly interesting or innovating about American whatever. Bring back BP! One Rabit race, tinman,GetAway Somehow, Big Blue Apples...thats where its at.

Gratz got a whole 75 fans on jambase with your new band Hammy.

Conjugal Burning Wed 4/16/2008 09:35AM
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Conjugal Burning

i hate the fucking eagles, man

gabus! starstarstarstarstar Wed 4/16/2008 04:41PM
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how'd i miss this dude before?

BlowsAgainsttheEmpire Fri 4/18/2008 06:15PM
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I haven't heard the CD yet. But I did catch them opening for Derek Trucks Band last fall and enjoyed the tunes I heard during their set.

jenofeve Mon 6/2/2008 11:28AM
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Hear it at the end of July! The band will be playing at Sullivan Hall, doing a long set Thurs. July 31st.

Also on the show are Matt Lowell and Leroy Justice. There should be some great energy there that night.