Review of Dirk Hamilton’s Apocalyptic Love Songs

April 14, 2024

Review of Apocalyptic Love Songs, Dirk Hamilton
Jerry McNeish
Critic at Large

Dirk Hamilton’s newest CD, Apocalyptic Love Songs, is a creative tour de force that speaks to our times. From the hopeful cover art of his pup, to the poetic lyrics, to the strong guitar riffs on his Gibson J45, Hamilton has produced an ode to the future while remembering the beauty and pain of his past. With a whirlpool of words drawing us in, we start to ask who is he? And then you start to ask, and who am I?

At times mournful, at times joyous, smirking; the songs are always sensitive. Rooted in the present, Hamilton sings of New Mexican forest fires and ash piling on rocky boulders. Fearful of the future, he chronicles our times. His sometimes playful lyrics are full of twists -‘I learned to read and write…from alphabet soup’ – and unforeseen rhymes – like ‘the doctor cannot close the wound without a thread to sew the suture, Bein’ alive’s a tricky thing when there’s no future, or ‘Joni Mitchell, She’s official’, or teachers are saints, poor folks are the Aint’s’. His broad shoulders take on deep responsibility with empathy affirming the core of our humanity, offering help when he has nothing but love to give. But, he also forgives our inhumanity. He expresses a caring worldview installed in California, but exposed and hardened by his journey across the planet. His music roams from boxing rings in Stockton, to venues in Italy, to the high mountain valley of Mora, New Mexico where he now resides. Mora has only 1 motel, 1 laundromat and a few restaurants that are only sometimes open. From there, he calls out to the planet and the people he longs to save and unite.

His imagery is at once playful – the dude in the speedo-, and then brutal – ‘dead bodies decorate the fences’. His craftsmanship deftly ties his poetry to his music: the dischordant guitar strum when he cries ‘my heart is broken’, or the upbeat driving rhythms in ‘A 2nd 1st Gig’. He takes a swing at folk music in ‘Too spiky for the Folk Thing’ and hits hard at capitalist greed and tyrants often.

Some of his opaque references, like ‘Heat Changing Mug’, I had to look up. It’s a magic mug with thermochemic ink that changes when it gets heated up. Sort of an emotional mashup of how we react as humans.

What drives a master like Hamilton to create this body of poetry set to music that dances around the edges of the troubles of our time? Is he feeling the sunsetting of his time? We can imagine him slowly driving the back roads of New Mexico with the heater on and dusk coming. Trying to make sense of our world. Driving alone, his courage and integrity intact, like the boxer: pitted against his fears saying ‘it’s just what I do’. He’s an individual with wisdom to be listened to, as if brought forward by lifes’ waves, and pummeled by them.

He has loved and lost, loved and moved on. And been loved. Life has taken a toll. But it’s also polished his finest skills — his precise wording – ‘we’re all born who we’re born to be’, or ‘so long, life is short, so long’, or ‘when the window shades start leaking dawn’, and the careful but energetic guitar playing; some rollicking, some bluesy, and some bordering on Tejano.

You can feel Hamilton’s imposing figure on his latest CD. His poetic force is laid bare as he touches on little slights like on his “A 2nd 1st Gig” where the promoter misspelled his name on the concert poster; some harsh but forgiven family trauma; then, the outsized problems of the day like ravages of climate change, immigration, and another useless war. But he reaches out to each of us with empathy and support.

Earlier reviews of his prior CD’s (20 in total) and concerts worldwide explored his raspy vocals, the clever lyrics, the hard driving, articulate guitar, the Dylanesque harmonica. They raised up his rage against injustice and dishonesty. And, even now, he still has it. All of it. He still seeks a way through the chaos and craziness of today, sharing his insights and hope with his songs. Take a listen to this message of our times, recorded at a studio called ‘The Kitchen Sink’ in Santa Fe. He may be troubled. Certainly his world is. But this music can bring some peace. It’s honest. Raw. Aware and tight.

And well worth a listen.