Bad ass singer/songwriter, joke-telling Hamell On Trial defies all musical categories. He will be performing at 7 p.m. Friday, May 4 at Redhouse, 201 South West St., Syracuse.
"Punk acoustic" and "anti-folk" come close. Warbling, super-sensitive folk singer he definitely is not. If you're looking for cum-bye-yah by some soft-strumming, tearful folkie, Hamell On Trial is going to offend you. On stage his raw, bold energy has Rolling Stone magazine calling him a "homicidal Otto Preminger." On more than one occasion, opening act Hamell On Trial sent the headliner band, with all its Marshall amplifiers and Les Paul guitars, running for cover. "I'm a rock and roll show. Period," Hamell says. "I love Iggy and the Stooges, Lou Reed, the MC5. Folk singers bore me. Insincerity incites me." For years the garrulous and witty Hamell tried to carve out a niche for his artistic vision in a blue-collar Upstate New York town, playing guitar and fronting an all-original band, before going solo. After a brief stint with Blue Wave Records in Syracuse, New York, Hamell decided to take his one-man show elsewhere. As music critic Don Mcleese explains, Hamell needed to move away before "audiences [could] respond to the material as art rather than gossip."
Eventually Hamell ended up in Austin, Texas where the perceptive owner of Austin's renowned Electric Lounge signed Hamell to a Friday night residency. "Mark's great," Hamell says of the E.L. owner. "The first time I played there I alienated half the audience, but still he had the vision to see what it could become." Soon Hamell's weekly audience swelled to a faithful throng of 500.
In May 1994, Hamell On Trial signed with Austin's premier indie label, Doolittle Records. Big As Life was recorded in the warehouse space above the Electric Lounge. Not long after the release of that record, a high-profile showcase at the South-by-Southwest music festival landed Hamell a major label deal with Mercury Records. Mercury re-released Big As Life, which met with widespread critical acclaim, and soon Hamell set about recording his second record for Mercury, called The Chord is Mightier than the Sword.