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...I had a dream about Count Basie
But he didn't want to talk to me
He had a lot of hurt in his face, and he had a copy of Life magazine
It had Elvis on the cover, it had an article inside, I couldn't see who it was written by
On closer inspection I noticed that Albert Goldman was still writing ---
Life wouldn't let him die
But after ten pages of big Life magazine format
People with guns and knives, smoking crack
I stepped back from that magazine, my mouth flew open
Because all those people were black...

Hamell On Trial's first full-length album, originally released on and rereleased by Mercury Records in 1995. All songs (except Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues") were written by Ed Hamell, who performed them on guitar and vocals, with various additional accompanying artists featured on violin, horns, keyboards, and bass. The style ranges from Hamell's trademark "one guy and one guitar" to considerably more polished, produced, arranged, and orchestrated stuff, but it's all good.

Track list:

  1. Sugarfree
  2. Harmony
  3. Blood of the Wolf
  4. Brother Franklin
  5. Big As Life
  6. Pep Rally
  7. Z-Roxx
  8. Dead Man's Float
  9. Piccolo Joe
  10. In The Neighborhood
  11. Open Up The Gates
  12. Get In The Game
  13. (hidden track) Folsom Prison Blues (by Johnny Cash)

I think Count Basie was just trying to tell me to be careful, or I could fall into a trap
'Cause take a look at that magazine, am I on acid or what
It appears to me that someone's getting a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad rap....

The title track of Big as Life is perhaps Hamell's signature piece, an inimitable blend of of autobiography and social commentary, but all of it great storytelling in a mix of spoken word and song accompanied by blistering acoustic guitar. At live performances, he introduces it with the caveat, "If you listen to only one song I do tonight, this should be the one. But if you listen to only one song I do tonight, then fuck you, and I mean that with all the love in my Brooklyn heart." As always with Hamell, it's hard to tell how much he's joking, and that's part of the genius of it.

So there we go, and it's big as life
And Count Basie, he don't wanna talk to me
Miles Davis never rang my phone off the hook
And I'm not anticipating any phone calls from Spike Lee...


All italicized lyric excerpts from "Big As Life", copyright Ed Hamell, reproduced by permission. See Hamell on Trial for full details.

CST Approved

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