Austin, Texas’ Wild Seeds had an immensely likable, tough and twangy guitar-pop sound, but the heart and soul of the band was Michael Hall’s songwriting. A former music journalist, Hall took the rock’n’roll ethic of good times, lonesome trains and love gone wrong and spun it into lusciously twisted personal narratives inscribed with poetic literacy. Throughout the Wild Seeds’ albums and into his solo work, Hall has cultivated the persona of an Everyman befuddled by an America gone sour; he’s constantly searching for truth, justice, a wife and two kids, yet he’s repeatedly thwarted by forces bigger than himself.
The first EP is a mere skeleton, with weak jangly guitars and ragged performances muffling the tunes. Hall returned with an entirely new lineup for Brave Clean + Reverent, an album so monstrously well-crafted, well-written, well-played and just plain good-feeling that it may make you wonder why you’ve ever settled for less. “Sharlene” is a raucous, Springsteen-style rocker about a girlfriend who just happens to be a transvestite (“my baby walks like a queen”); “A Girl Can Tell” exposes the lies in a relationship. “Shake This World,” the album’s closer, best sums up Hall’s hopes and fears: “Now I did shake this world like a man shakes a tree/But the leaves came tumbling down and buried me.”
Mud, Lies + Shame applies slightly slicker roadhouse production to another smart and elegant collection of songs. “Debi Came Back” and “You Will Be Married to a Jealous Man” make excellent use of Hall’s trademark romantic irony, and “I’m Sorry, I Can’t Rock You All Night Long” is as feisty as its title. But there’s a feeling of forced democracy going on, and the album peters out towards the end; when second vocalist Kris McKay takes the reins for the closer, “All This Time,” her affected country belting undercuts the aw-shucks endearment of Hall’s singing.