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Local H – Hallelujah! I’m a Bum

In 1996 I was a junior in high school and Local H released their sophomore album As Good As Dead, spawning the hit track Bound to the Floor and starting my long love affair with the band.  It was an album that I felt understood a 16 year old version of me.  FINALLY!

Two years later they would release their opus Pack Up the Cats, a perfect blend of alt rock, hook-laden concept songs, that is probably the most under-rated album of the 90’s.  The album got lost in the shuffle as their record label shifted them around and soon dropped them afterwards.  Any normal band, like many bands during that era, would have packed it up and been happy with the moderate success they had achieved up to that point….not Scott Lucas.

It’s been 14 years since Pack Up the Cats was released and during that time Scott Lucas parted ways with drummer Joe Daniels and added Triple Fast Action’s Brian St. Clair, continuing on with Local H releasing three other albums and doing nothing but destroying every club and bar in the United States that would let them set foot in their establishment.  Local H is easily the hardest working band in the US, a habit that Brian most likely picked up during his time as drum tech for the other hardest working band in the world, Cheap Trick.

I will be the first to admit that I’m completely biased here.  It’s well documented and proclaimed by myself that Local H is my favorite band to see live, and also one of the 10 most influential band’s in my life.   If you haven’t seen them live do yourself a favor and make sure to check them out on their new tour.  I’ve seen them at least 25 times, and every time is a new experience.  The last time I saw them at the Double Door I thought the floor was actually going to split in half from the energy of the crowd.  Amazing.

Hallelujah! I’m a Bum is Local H’s seventh studio album and first since 2008’s solid 12 Angry Months.  At first glance the title seems to be quite a strange choice for an album.  Doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but there’s meaning behind it.  The band once again showcases their love of the concept album here in a 17 song double album. The album is split up in to four sides, much like vinyl albums of the late 70’s and early 80’s.  It’s sort of their Exile on Main Street if you will.   17 songs is a lot of music to process, and it feels that way here at first, but the album really should be listened to and understood within that four side album scope.

The echoes of the train and barking dogs are heard in the opening buzz-saw interlude Waves.  We’ll hear the refrain of both sound effects and the track laced throughout the album.   The album then blast’s straight in to familiar Local H territory with Cold Manor.  You already know you’re in for something special by this time.  There’s no letting up as Night Flight to Paris destroys your face with its never-ending chunk rock riff.   They Saved Reagan’s Brain is one of the catchiest pop oriented Local H songs to date, and Blue Line chronicles the passers by that ride it every single day.  Another February is next, a song I identified with right away.  Nothing is worse than February in Chicago.  It’s freezing, depressing, and brutal, and probably even worse for the less fortunate who are looking for shelter from the cold.

The album continues with Say the Word.  A song that sits in the best of all Local H songs after one listen.  The perfect sequencing of the album continues with that refrain of the entire album once again in Cold And Mannered, followed by the thrashing Trash Fire Bummers which kicks in with some horns for good measure.  Feed a Fever brings it back to classic territory, which brings us to one of the more interesting tracks in all of their catalog, Here Come Ol’ Laptop.  A song that takes a couple listens to sink in.

Look Who’s Walking on Four Legs is up next, and I gotta be honest, the Americana/country track should have been left off, or at least sourced out to Lucas’s side project The Married Men.  I just don’t feel like it has a place on the album.  The Ruling Kind brings the focus back, and the fusion driven Limit Your Change, along with Paddy Considine, thrust us back into that rock riff arena.

The album wraps up with Sad History, the best Fleetwood Mac song that was never written, and the epic Waves Again, rounding out the album and bringing us back to where we started.

Maybe the album feels more personal to me because I live in Chicago, and more specifically the Wicker Park area, and I can understand and feel the point of view that Lucas is coming from with his song writing here.  It perfectly captures the essence and feel of this area, but I don’t think you need to be in this setting to understand the ideas that the band is throwing down here.  You can feel the fabric of the city in this album, and that’ s identifiable no matter what metropolitan area you live in.

I see Hallelujah! I’m a Bum as the perfect companion piece to Pack Up the Cats, and it’s easily the most well sequenced and conceptualized album since it.  You will gain something new from this album upon every listen.  There are very few bands that really buy into the “album” as a format anymore.  You get songs here and there, but Local H continues to create something more with their music.  They’re trying to create a story, a feeling, a theory, and they more than pull it off here.

Grade: A-