Ham1, an Athens, GA mainstay that released its self-titled (and free!) debut to much acclaim in 2005, has been picked up by eco-conscious Orange Twin Records for its second album, The Captain’s Table. Ham1 is the brainchild of Athens songwriter and schoolteacher Jim Willingham, and his newly solidified lineup features Eric Harris of the Olivia Tremor Control on drums as well as contributions from Liz Durrett (whom the band frequently backs up), Kris Barratt of the Capes, and Pete Erchick, also of Olivia Tremor Control. Ham1 takes equal inspiration from old movie soundtracks and modern dilapidation, drawing from jukebox rock and roll archetypes, spaghetti westerns, and flea market lost and found sounds to create original pop songs and instrumental scores. Ham1 will soon embark on the “Three On A Tree Tour” supporting Liz Durrett and Vic Chesnutt and acting as both acts’ backing band.
A ringing attribute of Jim Willingham’s songwriting is that it manages to be both exuberant and high-minded -- inviting and literate -- all at once. Combining the terse acoustic propulsion of the late-model Feelies with the breezy, half-stoned-on-the-beach pop-ambiance of Dean Wareham’s Luna, Willingham nevertheless brings a distinctive Athenian warmth to his Captain’s Table. It figures: there are horn-charts and string-sections, burst veins of Link Wray-ish guitarplay, pastoral keyboard-drones, tremulous bits of Hawaiian slack-key guitar and some country-fried saunter up under the rhythm section. Chiefly, though, there’s that friendly storytelling voice -- half-sung, half-spoken – escorting you through the broken waltzes, atmospheric ballads and jittery rockers, all.
For his first Orange Twin release, Willingham capitalizes on his longstanding musical relationship with a pair of veteran Elephant Six luminaries; former Olivia Tremor Control members, drummer/multi-instrumentalist Eric Harris and keyboardist Pete Erchick, make key textural and compositional contributions to the new disk. Rounding out the idiosyncratic lineup are Athens fixtures Jacob Morris and Chris Sugiuchi on cello and trombone, respectively; acclaimed local songstress Liz Durrett, whom the band often backs on stage, lends her rich vocal harmony to two tracks.
A solid couple years of playing around the south have shorn up the group’s ensemble sound, and The Captain’s Table is strong proof; the group’s intricate instrumental chemistry frames the record perfectly, coalescing Willingham’s sprawling vision into a unified artistic whole -- this is no loose collection of songwriter-plus-band musings. Producer Andy Baker’s shimmering, vibrant patina serves each song with minimal intrusion; there’s an airy, informal atmosphere to the album that makes for rewarding repeated listening: you can choose to skate along the brilliantly crystalline surface of each song or dive full-bore into Willingham’s weird and beautiful lyrical world.
There are definitely echoes of this sort of broken-down nature of the South - an aesthetic that is both good (I know some seriously stylish southern folks) and bad (as in being poor is hard)…the album is a trip, and recommended.
—Music For Robots
The “Three On A Tree” Tour:
Ham1 will be touring with Liz Durrett and Vic Chesnutt, acting as backing band for both:
Sept 28 The Werehouse Winston Salem NC
Sept 29 The Grey Eagle Asheville NC
Sept 30 Gravity Lounge Charlottesville VA
Oct 5 Arts Center Carrboro, NC
Oct 6 Evening Muse Charlotte, NC
Oct 12 The Pilot Light Knoxville, TN (tentative)
Oct 13 The Basement Nashville, TN
Oct 18 The 40 WATT Athens, GA
Oct 19 Workplay Birmingham, AL
Oct 20 The Earl Atlanta, GA
Artist MySpace: http://myspace.com/ham1
Artist website: http://ham1.org
Label website: http://www.orangetwin.com