Sunday, October 14, 2018


Human Condition-Shane Hall
Songwriter and vocalist extraordinaire Shane Hall is an artist preferring to eschew hard labels as to his style of music and brings to one's players and streaming devices an alluring but slippery set of original songs with his new album Human Condition. Hall, highlighted in the August 2017 issue of the San Diego Troubadour, is often classified --hurriedly, it seems, as a blues artist, but that doesn't quite get at what this musician is up to. Human Condition, while having a conspicuous blues base in the songwriter, isn't a journey through yet another session of twelve and sixteen bar chord progressions with pallid rewrites of the expected blues tropes. Hall is from the tradition, we can say, but he does not restrict himself, instead bring something more inclusively American for the listener:  folk revival, traveling man tales, the swaying call and response  of gospel-inflected work hollers, music that recollects and reconditions the music of the American soul and the wide avenues of its collective heart.  

And pushing this “Americana” mélange forward is Hall’s voice, a versatile, resonating baritone, filtering the traces of Muddy Waters, Hank Williams and, it seems, Van Morrison, voices of individual distinction and grit of personality. Each had assimilated their influences, wedded them with their own experiences, in turn creating new legacies of sound and soul music. Hall does much the same, his voice a harried, gritty plea for relief and love in the opening track. A testimonial of a man’s willingness and patience to shoulder his burden and wait for either a lover or Salvation, this is a simple and simple and powerful paean.  The strumming, galloping guitar of “Shell Life”, stopping and starting with odd emphasis that makes you lean closer to the singer’s entreaties, is a clear tale of someone taking stock of his life; between the desire for the pleasure of the moment and the need to maintain one’s integrity, this is the sad tale of a situation where there is heartbreak and regret whatever the choice happens to be.  Human Condition benefits from the spare, uncluttered arrangements, by Hall, and the clear, gimmick-free production provided by Kris Towne; the varying moods the songs create, from hill music laments to the bittersweet country-blues cadences of “Rare Form”, the songwriting is plainly and effectively showcased. Hall does not undercut his best virtues with the extraneous gesture.

What I’ve found especially appealing is the song "Roll”. In an album full of nuanced tales of seeking love, losing faith, resilience, regret and moving on down the road, “Roll” is a straight-ahead celebration of a young man who takes a fancy to a young woman’s beauty and manner. We realize, of course, that this new attraction, this infatuation, may be as ephemeral and fated for the dustbin of memory, but this song is about being in the moment, giving oneself over to the authority of their senses and finding someone sublime and perhaps loving in turn to make the hard journeys worth the shoe leather and heartaches.  The bounces, the chorus grabs you and leads you in a dance of momentary transcendence, and Hall’s voice lightens in texture and hews, it rises to a tone that suggests upraised eyes searching the stars, in awe of something wonderful, quite wonderful. Finishing the album is the bluesy, funked-up meditation “Lady Cobra”, sulky and slinky, a statement of powerlessness as a prelude to a one night stand; Hall’s protagonist seems aware that he’s getting in over his head, but it’s apparent this young man thinks love is worth the blues.

This the appeal of Human Condition, in the fact, is that Hall does not preach, both lecture nor offer bits of piecemeal philosophy as the experiences are recounted and the tales are told.  He keeps the details precise, the emotions raw yet restrained, the overall personality stoic, but not stiff. His musical variety, the resourcefulness of his voice and the simply and superbly tailored dynamics of his songwriting make Human Condition a refreshingly crisp and tuneful set from a singer-songwriter. Hall transcends the merely confessional and up his game to some artful storytelling.

(Originally published in The San Diego Troubadour. Used with permission).

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