Neil Michael Hagerty and the Howling Hex 

Self-Titled

Neil Hagerty has the ability to send an audience into fragments within minutes. His work on the guitar has been known to polarize people en masse, sending them fleeing once they realize that his guitar solo really is going to go on for twelve minutes. Even those clutching their treasured copies of Royal Trux' Twin Infinitives have had a hard time getting a handle on the Trux frontman's solo career. Here's a guy who can alternate some of the most insane fretboard freakouts imaginable with a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Carefree Highway." Somewhere between indignant, avant-classic rock and low-key country folk-blues lie the possibly genius talents of Neil Hagerty.

This is his best solo album -- no question. Over four vinyl sides, he lets loose a torrential wave of honest-to-God songs with some more collage-oriented material to break the spaces apart. The recordings are crisp, clean, and dirty where it's necessary -- often, it's very necessary. He also throws in live recordings of "Rockslide" and "Creature Catcher" (the latter recorded at SF's Bottom of the Hill). Think about that: He throws in extended live jams of his recent songs in the middle of his latest double album. He's living in a classic-rock netherworld. Even the liner notes show him rocking a double-necked SG (total strings: eighteen) like it's no big deal. And it really isn't.

Hex's opening cut, "Firebase Ripchord" has this herky-jerky '50s soul feel, actually beginning with a saxophone solo and later working in a cowbell. (It makes sense when you hear it.) It's one of the best things Hagerty's ever recorded -- and it's not even the high point of the record. None of this could have happened if he hadn't done his time with Pussy Galore or broken down the wall between boogie rock and musique concrète with Royal Trux. Now he's found a muse with soul music, country-blues, and the kind of incredible guitar playing that will probably cause people to throw away their guitars in frustration. This is full-blown American rock music for a new age. I'm serious.

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