Music Emissions

Many artists struggle to get going when they start out. Randy J. Hansen recalls his early performances with some humour. "We couldn't buy a gig," he says, "and had to perform at a local clothing-optional community because it was the only place that would have us." If the prospect of playing before a crowd of partially-clothed and naked people, and being offered the chance to join in was off-putting it doesn't show. Two decades later Randy J. Hansen is still making the music he loves and is a regular feature with his band, the Angry Neighbors, on the Bay Area gig circuit. He has just released his tenth album, "Overdose" on Blue Room Records.

Randy (who uses his middle initial to distinguish him from a similarly named Jimi Hendrix impersonator) draws on a wide range of musical styles and influences in crafting his music. This makes him difficult to pin down, but that is the way he likes it. A casual listen will allow styles ranging from the electric blues masters of Chicago, bands from the British invasion, right the way through to punk rock and alt. country which has become so prevalent in recent years.

But at the core of it all, Randy is a singer-songwriter, and the passion with which he presents his work is rooted in the lyrical ingenuity of many of his songs. Much of this is built around the juxtaposition of what, on the face of it, may seem like contradictory concepts. These are what he describes as "the cognitive dissonance of forbidden common knowledge", the idea that some self-evident truths ought to pose a threat to the established order but, somehow, don't. Randy explains it thus: "war is insane and our leaders our idiots" but despite this he concludes, with a puzzlement which we can all share, "we pick up the dry cleaning and life goes on". This contradiction he carries through to many of the songs on "Overdose", particularly the title track and "Varanasi", and seems to allow for the contradiction to become self-fulfilling insofar as there is the contradiction of the contradiction not being picked up unless you actually pay attention.

But lest anyone think that Randy is trying to make some deep and meaningful philosophical or political statement, it is worth remembering that, at heart, Randy simply loves making and playing music. Although most of his albums have been solo releases, his backing band is more than just a bunch of hired hands who help him perform the music live. With a typically self-deprecating comment he notes, "I ask a lot of them and they always come through, so much so that sometimes I wonder what the hell they're doing with me."

The band members, both current and former, make a considerable contribution to the music. Randy is far from the hard taskmaster he sometimes seeks to portray himself when it comes to the development of his music. Just as he lets his music grow organically as he goes along, he admits to providing the kernel of an idea to his band and letting them run with it. This provides a useful sounding board and prevents his work from becoming an introspective vanity project from a one-man writing and performance artist. Although Randy admits that, in the context of recordings, his band members do the things he can't do, nevertheless, each song is crafted around his own abilities and vision. 

After twenty odd years, Randy J. Hansen has come a long way from those early performances with their unusual audience. His confidence in his work is palpable in conversations with him and despite the passage of time his love for music as an art remains undiminished. You get the feeling that he enjoys what he does and is going to keep doing it for a long time to come.

Charles Martel, ME March 2016

Music Emissions

"Overdose" album review featured on Music Emissions
Randy J. Hansen has been around a long time, as anyone from the Bay Area will probably be aware. Overdose is his tenth album release and while he performs with his backing band, the Angry Neighbors, his albums are usually released as solo works, though his band members, past and present, are frequently found listed as contributors.

Overdose is one of those albums you may think you have heard of its kind before. If that is your impression then listen again, for the diversity contained within it is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere, unless on another album by the same artist. Influences as diverse as the Chicago blues greats of the fifties, such as Howlin' Wolf or Willie Dixon, mix with seventies punk influences such as the Clash. Sixties British invasion influences sit easily beside those from the seventies, in themselves displaying a diversity extending from Led Zeppelin to Boz Scaggs. The trick is to make sure that this all melds together in harmony and Randy J. Hansen has twenty odd years of experience at doing this.

The album is, therefore, a consummate mixture of his own personal musical choices. But it is much more than that and again something more than a casual listen is required to latch onto this. Though far from being a concept album, a lot of the tracks Overdose share a common lyrical underpinning - not a theme but more like variations on an idea. For example, the title track juxtaposes the idea of love with a more sinister chemical addiction than simple serotonin. This in itself is nothing new, but Hansen takes the image further - not just addiction but overdose. It is left to the listener to decide if this is a positive or negative thing.

That Hansen is able to raise issues and then walk away from the consequences totally non-judgementally is a strength. By leaving the balance to be decided by the listener, Hansen avoids being preachy. "Varanasi", named after one of the holiest of Hindu cities, again uses a juxtaposition - this time of cleansing souls in a spiritual water which is, in physical empirical terms, filthy. Similarly, "Wayward Lover", with its rich backing of programmed horns, brings a vision of chasing after a departed lover, someone who has lost her way, turning it into that ultimate exposition of self-discovery - the road trip of the deserted party. Among the other highlights, "No-One's Fool", which brings the album to a close, has a duality - but of a different kind. Ideal as a closing track, it fulfils the role, jointly, of wrapping everything up and providing a cliff-hanger. Each song is its own story, a story told as much by the lyrics as by the music.

And, musically, the album is well crafted and is played comfortably by people who know their role. Hansen may carry out most of the musical duties himself, but there are plenty of other participants - from his band - who provide emphasis and a lot of the harmonies on backing vocals. The result is something that is easy to listen to, without providing a challenge to anyone who does not want politics, social commentary or any other viewpoint to dominate the way they listen to their music.

For someone to be around for such a duration - two decades and counting - three things need to be present. The first is that the artist needs the dedication and commitment to carry on. Hansen certainly has that and his output remains as prolific as ever. Second the music needs an audience, either a committed following and/or a steady stream of newcomers to the music. Well, if enduring popularity on his local gig circuit is anything to go by, Hansen definitely has that. The second is, however, often pre-emptive on the third factor, the need for a certain timelessness in the music. And as Overdose indicates, that is certainly the case.

Music Street Journal

Randy J. Hansen

Overdose

Review by Larry Toering
Randy J. Hansen is new to me and he sure beats some of the current similar artists he resembles. And he, along with his band, put in a great effort to complement his influences which range from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen and so many in-between all with his own mighty signature stamped all over them. By the time you are through with this CD, you really feel he loves said artists but makes their influence sound new. If you like all that encompasses great rock and roll, country, folk and even some techno-oriented sounds to combine a modern edge to classic songwriting, this title is right up your alley.
Track by Track Review
Overdose

If you like your rock a little jazzed up, yet combined with everything from folk to electronica influenced techno-rock, this is an epic opener. Still, it stays steeped in rock, but you get those other elements and more - even a singer/songwriter vibe. Those elements combined manage to introduce the set properly, but would still fit in anywhere on the disc.

Learn To Love It
This track comes with a big sound and some fat percussion, and very chunky guitar riff that takes it over the top before any vocals enter the picture. Come that time though, it’s almost like a country vocal approach. This can either work or not, but Hansen manages to pull off a great effort that tends to show the Nickelbacks of the world how to incorporate country styling with hard rock chops. Good lyrics help make this all it can be. It’s modern, but it’s classic too. For what more can you ask?
Wayward Lover
I always welcome an early ballad, and this goes full on country with a few easy listening bells and whistles. It’s good for me, and the one step outside the box this makes is added horns. The guitar solo completely outshines everything and helps make the song. And even though country comes on strong here, I can see anyone from Americana fans to R and B lovers eating this up. But to the one dimensional layman who doesn’t wrap their head around variety, it might go shamefully under-appreciated. 
Witness
This kicks off with a piano motif to set up a singer/songwriter heavy narrative. Things take on an influence felt from Elton John and Billy Joel to more modern crooners like Josh Groban. The female singer adds just the right touch on this tune. I like it just as much as the previous number but they’re actually not much alike.
No Right or Wrong
Taking the tempo all the way back up here with more snappy percussion and a solid groove, this is a more straight-forward rocker with a particularly different vocal mix. This isn’t as easy to wrap your head around at first listen, but with more spins it gets better. I would leave this in the country basket where it belongs but once again some other influences are added, with some cool effects. Probably one of the more acquired tastes on offer, this is nevertheless an interesting track within this collection.
Scared in the Dark
This one fits many a genre, but blues is heavily featured on what comes in the shape of yet another ballad. And it’s the most compelling effort thus far, leaving the previous two ballads of slightly less interest because of how this plays out in every way. A very spooky narrative combined with yet another fantastic guitar solo are what makes this one of the best tracks on the disc. We are talking an outstanding effort on this. All that appeals about this release is contained within this one track and helps go a long way in defining the sound of Randy J. Hanson. It proves his abilities and efforts combined - excellent!
Road to Your Heart
Things go back down another notch here, but it is again welcomed after the energy of the previous track. I love how the bass has a down groove here on another crooner styled ballad that sits more in the easy listening realm but spiced with folk factors. By this time Randy is nailed as more of a crooner than a rocker or straight country artist. Americana is likely the best place to fit him. It’s a combined influence genre if there ever was one. This track stands up to any others here of the same speed.
Sinners in Love
This whole CD is balanced well between ballads, rockers, semi-ballads and semi-rockers. I’m not as thrilled with this as some others material-wise on the disc, but it evens out the tempo thus far. And once the guitar solo kicks in, they manage to rock this pretty well. ALthough this dips things down just a bit in the fun, it nevertheless pulsates.
Varanasi
If I am sonicly speaking this is the best track on offer to my ears. The attitude makes it, and the rest just keeps my interest better than anything surrounding it. They rock but there is still no question that the Tom Petty fans of the world will love this speed. It’s hard to explain but there is a holy vibe to this one that isn’t found anywhere else on the disc. Again this CD is chock full of influences from said pop artist to Van Morrison. But the former influence takes completely over on this one. This is probably the overall biggest number.
No One’s Fool
Hansen takes the disc out very well with another piano driven track that brings out that country tone in his voice. Once again the singer/songwriter in him takes over. These lyrics are the easiest to follow and relate to. More killer guitar work is applied here, and it’s a great way to end a great release in epic build-up fashion, making it well placed at the end of the set.