Getting laid off from your job, having your marriage implode and your apartment building foreclosed upon all within a year could easily drive your average person to despair.
In Don Hammontree's case, however, this unfortunate trifecta of events drove him to the studio, where he recorded his first CD of original music in five years, "Brutalist School." Co-produced and engineered by Mike O'Dwyer, "Brutalist School" is a collection of sparsely arranged yet powerfully performed songs showcasing Hammontree's songwriting prowess, unique vocals and nimble guitar skills.
"This will sound very cliche, but in many ways, recording this CD was very therapeutic - 2009 was a tough year," said Hammontree, a Chicago expatriate who currently lives in Fall River, Mass. "We were in the studio almost every Saturday from March until December, so I had something to look forward to every week, even during some of the more trying stretches."
Using mostly spare guitar/vocal arrangements, Hammontree plumbs several dark themes on "Brutalist School," including regret ("Angel on 7th Street," "I Wish I'd Studied Film"), race ("Coleman Young," "Drowned"), risk ("The Final Days") and desperation ("Unlikely Savior").
And don't forget rage.
The CD opens with the explosive "Treason," a bluesy-rock salvo decrying greedy CEOs, soulless corporations and the corrosive effects downsizing, outsourcing and free-trade-gone-amok have had on struggling American industrial cities like Fall River.
"You send the plant to Mexico so you can buy some new Van Gogh
I wonder how you look us in the eye
And behind your mansion gates, I wonder if you masturbate
to your bank statement, I wouldn't be surprised."
"It's a very political song, very angry," said Hammontree, "but I don't think it's particularly partisan. I've played it in Harvard Square and I've played it in Greenville, S.C. - which are about as blue and red as you can get - and people always react pretty enthusiastically to it. People are just sick of seeing the America we've always known get looted by the banks and big business, and this song definitely airs those frustrations."
Not all is brutal on "Brutalist School," however. In "Boris & Mahalia," Hammontree takes a lighthearted look at fatherhood while trying to dodge the pitfalls of writing about such an un-rock-'n'-roll topic:
"Singers singing about their kids oh how it made me want to puke,
way back in the days of my pretentious hipster youth
Perhaps you feel the same and I'm desrving a rebuke
Or ... you ... could sing along - to the Boris & Mahalia song!"
"Quequechan" is a salute to Hammontree's longtime home base of Fall River, while the CD's bouncy closer "When You Leave" features the warm lead vocals of onetime Hammontree collaborator Alyssa Countryman. Wareham singer/songwriter Grace Morrison also shares the vocal spotlight on the ballad "Unlikely Savior," while Cape Cod native Andy Tomolonis adds some strong harmonica to "Treason" and "Quequechan."
A native of Peoria, Ill., who eventually migrated north to Chicago, Hammontree was the guitarist and main songwriter for the Windy City-based group Six Feet Over (which released two CDs, 1997's "Another Day Like Today" and 1999's "This"). After moving to Massachusetts in 2000, he performed in a duet with Alyssa Countryman before releasing his first solo effort, "Mount Hope Days," in 2003 (featuring ex-Til Tuesday guitarist Robert Holmes in the producer's chair). "The Mumbai EP," a short collection of songs inspired by Hammontree's interest in India, followed in 2005. Taking a detour from music for most of 2007 and 2008, he wrote, edited and self-published his first novel, "Baptized in Formaldehyde," which he describes as a "humorous coming-of-age, day-in-the-life, sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll" story.
A diligent performer, Hammontree has played on stages throughout the American Northeast, Midwest and South, as well as in Poland and Ukraine. In real life, he has worked most of his career working in the newspaper business and is currently a freelance writer.
For more information on Don Hammontree or "Brutalist School," please email firstname.lastname@example.org.