Even among the ever-growing crop of folk-rock troubadours, there’s always been something about Dave Hause that’s stood out. He’s not as verbose as Frank Turner or as stark as Chuck Ragan, but the streak of punk in his sound that stems from his time fronting The Loved Ones has always been more prominent than a lot of his peers. It’s led to a broader yet still detailed focus to his work, something akin to The Gaslight Anthem rather than the typical singer-songwriter fare, particularly on his 2013 sophomore effort Devour.
On the surface of his third full-length Bury Me In Philly, very little seems to have changed – it’s another romp through sepia-toned, heartland America, soundtracked by mid-paced bounds of guitar and Hause’s weathered but equable vocals. It’s a combination that’s still working, too; it’s telling that the album’s weakest moment comes when Hause moves away from this on the clunky, unwieldy blues of The Mermaid. But apart from that, Bury Me In Philly continues the ongoing streak of admittedly simplistic but rollicking anthems, like the ragged, little groove on The Ride that sounds more than a bit like George Michael’s Faith, or Dirty Fucker which could be a Dropkick Murphys song with a few more bells and whistles (both figuratively and literally). It’s nothing particularly earth-shattering, and even though Hause doesn’t have the most expressive voice, there’s enough sincerity and decent, Americana-infused songcraft here to make for a pretty addictive listen regardless.
By comparison, the lyrics, arguably the most important part of an album like this, are more of a mixed bag. Viewed as an all-encompassing theme, Bury Me In Philly holds up really well, a presumably autobiographical take on growing up in Philadelphia. As a lyricist, Hause has enough storytelling skills and a wistfully nostalgic quality to make some rather standard topics really connect, like the “live while we’re young” sentiment of With You or the appreciation of one’s roots in Helluva Home and the title track. There’s a warmth in such small-scale realism as this, and Hause really knows how to maximise its potential for some truly personal, heartfelt moments on this album’s best songs.
Where things start to go awry is in the confusion between teenage hotheadedness and unmotivated nihilism, and how it presents Hause’s narrator as a character, particularly in songs about relationships. My Mistake and The Ride probably fare the best, with Hause explicitly stating that his love interest in each is already in a relationship (with the two running off to Chicago to be with each other in the latter), but there’s enough emotional investment in both tracks to make it all feel believable. But then there’s Wild Love, a track where Hause flits from woman to woman looking for casual flings, with the line “I don’t need love, I just need fun for an hour”. It’s an ugly sentiment that taints the way relationships are presented on this album, and the sour tone the song is delivered in makes it all the more unpleasant. But perhaps the worst example comes with The Mermaid, where the nihilistic narrator destroys a car and burns down a bar for seemingly no reason, and spits out the lyrics in such a confrontational manner that simply doesn’t suit Hause at all. There’s no empathy or positive emotional response to feel in a song like this, and compared with the level of lyrical detail and brightness of the instrumentation across the majority of the album, it feels out of place.
It leaves an unfortunate blemish on Bury Me In Philly as a whole. It’s definitely salvageable – Hause is still fantastic as a technical lyricist and for the most part it’s approachable enough in sound – but the shockwaves of dissonant themes and lines reverberate throughout, and sadly it does make for Hause’s weakest project to date. Even comparing certain tracks on this album with others, it’s clear that Hause is at his best when making very blue-collar, earnest music rather than his stab at something a bit less stylised, even if what is present is autobiographical to some degree. Either way, Bury Me In Philly has enough to it to ensure that Hause is still a standout artist in his scene, whatever way that may be viewed.
For fans of: The Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, Northcote
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bury Me In Philly’ by Dave Hause is released on 3rd February on Rise Records.