If ever there was a man who deserves a Decca records World of … collection it’s Kurt Hagardorn. As a veteran of two bands, two solo albums, a load of session work as a guitarist-for-hire, and, more recently, a slew of one-off, independently released singles, his musical resume may be a bit hard to follow. But it is definitely worth poring over for the fine print. Hagardorn clearly loves all sorts of music, from country rock to singer/songwriter folk to jangly poprock. His choice of cover tunes alone runs an impressive gamut of styles, with songs from Richard Thompson, Kirsty MacColl, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Ray Davies and Colin Hay. All that is something deserving of some serious curation. So, in that spirit, let me present the completely unofficial, rogue Decca records release, The World of Kurt Hagardorn.
In preparing this special release, I’ve mined Hagardorn’s bandcamp page, which features three albums and many, many stand-alone singles. His two official solo albums consist of Ten Singles and Leaves, released in 2007 and 2009 respectively. But a third album of sorts appears under the title Back in the 90’s, featuring a few songs from his band Gumption and other tracks I assume he put together in that decade. There’s also the relatively new EP Exile in Babylon released earlier this year. And then if we take in the amazing volume of stand-alone single releases from 2018 to 2020 (more than three dozen by my count) they could easily amount to another solo album. In other words, more than enough musical fodder for a comprehensive overview compilation!
Side one of our record kicks off with tunes from Hagardorn’s first solo album, Ten Singles. “Last Time Rewind” has a great long intro, creating a dynamic tension that is one part Rolling Stones, multiple parts all sorts of 1980s indie bands. It reminds us that beneath all the style hopping Hagardorn is basically a 1960s rocker. “You Are My Girl” has a lovely Byrdsian country jangle while “Rock Scissors Paper” comes at the country influence more from a Rockpile/Brinsley Schwarz pub rock angle. Next we draw from solo album #2. On Leaves you can feel a qualitative change to a country-inflected indie sound recently make popular by acts like Lord Huron, among others. “9 Broadway” has a somber intimacy, intensified by Hagardorn’s striking vocal and pedal steel/organ work. Elsewhere the record features a latent late-period Beatles vibe on tracks like “Tail Lights” and “Heartbeat,” though the sound is also very contemporary – think recent releases from Matthew Milia and Nicholas Altobelli. Side one concludes with “Leaves,” a song that sounds like a Elliott Smith contribution to the Amélie soundtrack.
On side two we reach back to Hagardorn’s earlier 1990s work, starting with Gumption’s “The Way,” a rollicking guitar chord slasher in a Guadalcanal Diary or Green on Red vein. But here I also like the up-front chord basher “Lemonhead” with its sweet vocal harmonies and surprising melodic twists. From there we select a few choice releases from the cavalcade of singles that have come out between 2018 and 2021. “Seven Six Seven” has a nice, almost new wave acoustic swing. “Everything and Nothing” has a bigger sound, with a slight uneasiness lurking around the edges of the melody. “Waited So Long” kicks off with a strong jangle base, offset by Hagardorn’s wavering, vulnerable vocal. The recent Exile in Babylon EP represents another stylistic departure for Hagardorn, with songs embodying an almost Sparks-like playfulness. But here I’m drawn to the big chords, subtle synth lead line and ELO-style hooks of “Tractor Beam.” And to end our album, something from Hagardorn’s collection of more spare, delicate slow songs. So many good choices here but the Randy Newman-esque simple beauty of “Metronomic Heart” really captures this artist’s emotional range and depth.
While The World of Kurt Hagardorn is an imaginary album, the accomplishments are real and readily available. Get thee to the Kurt Hagardorn bandcamp page now to make your own individual selections.