Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Ed Hamell probably shouldn't have made it all the way here to Rock Island, on the day that this session was taped. He probably should have slid off a dangerous road somewhere and been stuck in a snowbank, using the rest of the fuel he had in the tank to keep warm and wait for help from a state trooper. It was a real shit of a winter day, the kind of day where everything is shut down, even the McDonalds, and you're better off never even trying to get behind the wheel of an automobile. It was one of those rare days where everyone expects you to stay put in your house -- the work you were supposed to get done for your boss, the school that the kids were supposed to get to, the dinner date were forced to just wait a day or two. It was a free day, where nothing in the way of effort was or could be expected of anyone. It was a scary day and we didn't hold out any hope of Hamell making his way, hours and hours and hours from the east, right through the teeth and fist of the beastly storm. The man had a long haul and damn it if he didn't make it. He got here and he was exhausted and white-knuckled upon arrival and in meeting and listening to Hamell's work as Hamell On Trial, you're faced with a clearer picture of the guy, of what makes him run the way he runs. He's the kind of guy that ALWAYS makes it through snowstorms, even the nastiest ones, the ones that most other men wouldn't have the stones to even attempt. He just barrels on through because it's what he's got to do. He won't be the weakest link, ever. He's the kind of guy who exists for the kind of uncertain existence that can be felt when thrown into the middle of such precarious experiences. It's something altogether different and exhilarating when you meet the elements head-on and then spit a little bit in their eyes when you've bested them. Driving safely through the snowstorm that he drove through is something that could go on Hamell's permanent record that's stored somewhere in the clouds. His music comes across as the kind of runaway thoughts that a man endures when he's faced with a life-threatening situation. It's that time when your life is supposed to flash before your eyes, all of the little details that you've lost or forgotten about for decades and decades. You're able to relive all of the things you've ever done, all of the people you've ever loved or had love you back and replay all of the time that you were lucky enough to get a chance to burn through. It's as if his head were an airplane, calmly and routinely flying through the air and suddenly the top side of the fuselage rips off, exposing the entire cabin to the friendly blue skies. All of that blue and those clouds and that fatal coldness, that roaring wind rush into the cabin space, as if all of it was attracted to carbon dioxide and luggage. It's how Hamell thinks and how he sings. He must have had his fuselage fly off long ago and found that he liked the sensation so he never went about patching it back up. He's leaving the gaping hole and he's gone ahead and let himself think about the endless number of things that he's doing -- well and poorly -- like raising his family, basically living, how he's driving, how he handled that one conversation or the other, and what it might all essentially mean in the end.