Living well may be the best revenge. But rocking well gets the job done too. Just look at Neil Hagerty. When last year’s ill-fated and short-lived Royal Trux reunion with his former musical and life partner Jennifer Herrema imploded like everyone knew it would, the iconoclastic singer-guitarist could have just let sleeping dogs lie. Instead, like pissed-off exes the world over, he apparently decided to get out there and do a little one-upmanship. So he reactivated his long-running (and comparatively underappreciated) other band Howling Hex and made an album that gives RT’s raggedly glorious White Stuff a run for its drug money. Featuring a sheaf of unvarnished garage-rock jams reminiscent of Keith Richards — and joined by a gritty female vocalist who fills his ex’s shoes quite handily — the shambling, messy and undeniably cool Knuckleball Express is Hagerty’s most pointed and focused solo work in years. If this is what comes of having to deal with Herrema again, here’s hoping she moves in down the block.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Don’t call it a comeback; he’s been here for years. Underground rock hero Neil Hagerty returns with Knuckleball Express, the electrifying new album from his long running project The Howling Hex. While he may be best known as one half of the critically confounding Royal Trux, Hagerty has thrived and survived beyond many of his subterranean peers from the late 1980s by staying true to his school of eccentricity. This supercharged collection of guitar-heavy choogle proves he’s still throwing heat in unexpected directions. Recorded over eight days in Hagerty’s home of Denver, the album finds him teamed up with a brand new musical squad. The second most prominent voice and guitar featured comes from Nicole Lawrence, who has recently been seen onstage with Mary Timony and King Tuff. Thanks to a meaty mix by veteran producer Clay Jones, it’s as slick as the Howling Hex has ever sounded without losing any of their off-kilter scorch. “Rock and roll is what’s missing in bands these days that take a generic approach to playing that’s almost machine-like,” says Hagerty. “We don’t need that anymore because machines can actually do it. I don’t see what the difference is between a precise human drummer playing to a click track and EDM. There’s some weak dad-rock stuff being distributed now by people my age, so I’m just trying to up the ante. I get on stage and say all the words I believe in my daily life. Not every dad can do that.”