If you believe a certain version of history, than the last person to be put on trial for all humanity was a man named Jesus of Nazareth. I believe I found the second coming. He’s loud, obnoxious, has “anarchistic politics” a very foul mouth and looks like a biker. He is also a folk singer. And, one could argue, a stand-up comedian. Yes, Edward Hamell is somewhat of an anomaly in the music world. Performing under the moniker Hamell on Trial, he sings about everything from hating your kids, to hate crimes, to politics, environment and the like. Sounds like a typical folkie. Except he’s not. He shouts a lot in the style of Greg Graffin and Jim Lindberg and plays an extremely amplified and distorted acoustic guitar. He could be described variously as hardcore folk, or punk singer-songwriter. However that would be doing a disservice to this boozy, brashy, self-depricating loudmouth who could be the leader of the next cult you join. For Hamell on Trial is truly one of a kind.
I feel musically uneducated that I not seen or heard of Hamell before Wednesday night. I had merely gone to see The Uncluded and he was the opening act. His set had already started when I had arrived and much of the time was in stitches. He would tell jokes in between his songs to keep the audience loose. My favourite goes something like this “A ten-year old lights up a cigarette. His friend turns to him and says you should really cut that out. The boy goes, my grandpa lived to 90 and he was a smoker. “You’re grandpa lived to 90 because he was a smoker’? asks the other one. ‘No’ replied the boy, ‘but he learned to mind his own fucking business'”. the audience was howling. Then Hamell would take his performance to the next level. After getting the audience all loose and comfortable, he brought the entire crowd at the Fortune Sound Club to a stand-still with “Hail”, his song about hate-crimes.
“Hail” is a true folk song as there ever was. It tells the story the story of a fictional meeting between Teena Brandon and Brian Deneke, who are later joined by Matthew Shepard. I must confess, although I knew who Brandon and Shepard were – the former immortalized by Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, and the latter in the Laramie Project – I had never heard of Deneke. He was a young punk musician from Amarillo, Texas, who was killed in a deliberate hit and run attack. His death lead to calls for renewed and expanded hate crime expansion; one not just based on race, ethnicity or sexuality but to include other social groupings. Deneke has also been immortalized in text. The play “Manslaughtered” by David Bucci, premiered in Seattle in 2000. With “Hail” not only does Hamell show off his wicked intelligence and songwriting ability, but he proves (not that he has too) to those around him that he can actually sing. He has a good voice.
He peers recognize him as well. Since 1989, he has released 12 solo albums. Not the type of performer you would necessarily expect to see at a Fringe Festival – although he is a perfect fit for the DIY attitude of the Fringe – he won the Herald Angel Award at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the original and biggest of all Fringes), The Conveyor Awards of Excellence for Best Story Telling – Non-Theatrical & Best Musical Moments at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival in May 2009, and in July 2009 won the Directors’ Award at the Capital Fringe Festival. Also in 2007, he was inducted into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Fame (SAMMY). Clearly Hamell on Trial is a god almost everywhere he goes. Unless, by his own admission, he’s in the south. They tend not to like him as much down there. Perhaps its his aforementioned anarchist politics and dirty mouth. He finds himself getting to more conversations… uh debates….. okay arguments with attendees with he performs south of the Mason-Dixon. But, he generally wins the fight so it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. Hamell will draw you him, he will sing to you, he will make fun of you, and you will like. Pay attention, for the second coming has arrived.
RIYL: Black Flag, Bad Religion, folk-punk mixture… wait scratch that, he’s way too fucking unique