Album Review :
Bradley Hathaway - A Thousand Angry Panthers

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Artist: Bradley Hathaway
Title: A Thousand Angry Panthers
Label: Self-released
Release date: June 2010
Review by: Alex Schelldorf

  1. She Was Raised By a Man With a Sickness
  2. Carolina
  3. Would You Think Less of Me
  4. The World is Screaming

Editor’s note: In concordance with this particular review, I had the pleasure of getting to interview Bradley Hathaway himself via telephone, the full transcript of which (well, mostly anyway, as we talked for 2 hours) will be posted here on Indie Vision soon. You’ll find my thoughts along with his insight on the EP.

Bradley Hathaway is not a stranger to pain.

That much is evident in A Thousand Angry Panthers, the latest release from the former “poet at the hardcore show guy”-turned-folk enthusiast and purveyor.

Panthers is an EP chock full of real characters with real emotions. It is 4 songs brimming with poignant and truthful reflections on life: love, pain, beauty and revival. It is granite slab heavy because of its relatability, covering such “hit home” topics as: despair, bi-polar disorder, suicide, infant death, verbal & sexual abuse, abandonment, malice, broken dreams, doctrinal differences, corrupt politics, doubt, cancer, and losing a close loved one.

But in spite of the complex and controversial topics, Hathaway’s lyrics are simple, gentle, gracefully dancing childlike alongside guitars.

“I’m not a melancholy person, necessarily,” Hathaway says. “I have joy and I have happiness and I like to laugh, so I’m not like a depressed, bummed-out dude. But I love beautiful things. … Not in a sadistic way, but there’s something beautiful about something sad being said really beautiful. I’m an easily inspired person. I find a lot of things beautiful and inspiring.”

Expounding on the album and his continued evolution as an artist, Hathaway says “There isn’t a healing to our wounds completely on this earth, For some, they do experience that. For some, they do know the feeling of being able to forgive someone or being healed. But for most of us, we’re just always hurting.” Continuing, “But Christ meets us in our wounds and He is our company in our wounds, but I don’t know that I’m going to ever not have a broken heart. I think when I go to heaven, then my tears will be wiped away completely and I’ll understand. But for now, I’m hurt. And that’s coming out in the art, and as I grow and as I change, my art will change with me.”

In clear spite of its melancholy tone, Panthers’ overarching motif is that of redemption through Christ, especially in times when we don’t deserve it and can’t yet see it or hear it.

While the EP does not feature any rollicking 8 minute opuses à la “Samuel” or “Momma” from A Mouth Full of Dust, it does share some audible similarities with its predecessor. “Not Giving Up”, “Don’t Wanna Miss” and especially “Mary” are all tracks that could pass for inclusion on Panthers. However, Hathaway says he felt like the 4 songs on Panthers “belonged together”, and for good reason they do.

“She Was Raised By a Man With a Sickness” leads off with a somber tale of a child’s constant struggle with a bi-polar father and its residual effects throughout her adult life despite her relationship with Christ. Hathaway says he wrote the song in 15 minutes on his farm in Arkansas.

Musically, the track is simple: an understated guitar and a viola. “It’s taken a little while for the poetry and the music to come together properly,” Hathaway says. Though he has put out 3 full length albums, this is only the second release in which Hathaway has composed and played guitar (in addition to A Mouth Full of Dust), as he picked up the instrument just 3 years ago. “Sickness” is also clearly indicative of Hathaway’s lyrical progression.

“I’m not saying ‘Jesus came to give me a hug’ anymore,” Hathaway posits. He goes on to say that the “imagery of the little girl being abused and Jesus dancing over her and her rejecting that love, and then a man falling in love with this woman and that woman never being able to open her eyes when she makes love” is very sad, but very beautiful in its sadness.

The line Hathaway is referring to is particularly gorgeous, delicate and tasteful.

We made love atop of Saturn’s rings,
But she never opened her eyes.
We rode through the galaxies on backs of comets,
But all she did was cry.
And we landed in her bedroom off of 32nd and Ware,
and I ran my fingers once more through her brown hair.

“Carolina” comes next, undeniably the most upbeat song on the album, featuring the welcomed addition of some delightful mandolin work. Lyrically, “Carolina” is also the most mysterious of the EP, cleverly disguised partly as an ode to travel (Hathaway says he wrote the song at a Motel 6 while on tour). Its lyrics feature such fantastical imagery as the Devil standing outside of Heaven looking in at the Holy Spirit singing songs to God the Father — truly wild and imaginative.

In the song, Hathaway uses the line “The wind brings you closer to me,” which he says can be construed “a number of different ways”, and to take the entirety of the song’s lyrics “as you (the listener) will.”

My personal favorite of the songs is “Would You Think Less of Me”, a much more serene track than “Carolina”, which features some subtly-jazzy piano behind Hathaway’s subdued guitar. Heart-wrenchingly, the song is written from the first-person perspective of losing a grandmother to cancer, literally watching her die in a hospital bed and the author’s inability to do anything about it.

This song, which Hathaway says he wrote driving to Ohio to Kentucky some 2 years ago, contains the lyric which became the album’s title:

There is love, there is beauty, and then there is pain
At the moment, I feel they are all the same
You know I’d fight a thousand angry panthers screaming in the night
If it meant you would be kept safe, sound and alright
But the only thing I’ve had to fight is you
Now I’m giving up
There is nothing I can do.

Of the album’s title, Hathaway says he chose it because it sounds “cool and mysterious”, but laughs and says he was almost reluctant to title it as such because it sounded “a little like (the band) 10,000 Maniacs”.

Last of the 4 new songs is “The World is Screaming”, which makes mention of a wide variety of the aforementioned uncomfortable and oft-argued topics; everything from the reverberating pangs of infidelity to global warming. The song’s condensed intensity is truly striking, and plays well with the twangy guitars and Hathaway’s seething lyrics, often sounding as if he’s singing from behind clenched teeth with white-knuckled ferocity.

When asked to choose a favorite of Panthers’ songs, Hathaway says though he wouldn’t pick one of “his babies” over another, “The World is Screaming” is the “most special and moving song I’ve ever written”. Going on, he says the “chord progression lends itself to a climactic kind of feeling”. This statement is one of the truest things I’ve ever heard, as the song builds with fast strumming guitars and marching drums while Hathaway goes from name dropping hot button issues to revealing the redemptive qualities of the glory and hope in Christ. In the last line, he says “The world is screaming, but you can’t tell me that nobody’s listening.” The ending of this song is wondrously breathtaking.

In Panthers’ 17 gorgeous minutes, Bradley Hathaway has done well to solidify himself as an engaging, entertaining, smart and thought-provoking songwriter. Of the refinements on Panthers, Hathaway says his songwriting has just gotten deeper: “If anything, I was a 1 gallon bucket, and now I’m a 5 gallon bucket.”

That its consistent lyrical simplicity while still allowing Hathaway to portray an immense amount of topical depth is perhaps the greatest and most easily noticeable trait of the EP, and a true testament to the maturation Hathaway has undergone since arriving on the scene in summer 2004 with his playful mocking of the insecure “show bro”.

“Now I’m 6 years older and I have more pain and I have more awareness of the pain in the world and I’ve heard more stories, and I can convey it in a different way,” Hathaway says. “The trick is trying to get people to recognize the change.”

“I’m always just going to write about what I’m experiencing, and not everything is this dark and depressing,” Hathaway states. “The order of the CD hopefully conveyed that not everything is with despair. If you only heard the first 3 songs, you would be like ‘This dude is a major bum-out’, but the truth of the 4th song hopefully lets everyone know that, yeah, this sucks, but Christ is listening to us and praying for us and we can be with Him. Now and then.”

When asked about piracy: “If people like my art, then they should buy it and they should support it,” Hathaway says, a topic he feels quite strongly about. “If they don’t, then they shouldn’t. If you want them to make an album, then you should support them.”

Overall: Panthers is beautifully heartbreaking. But what is the best part of heartbreak? Allowing Christ to help pick up the pieces and lovingly put them back into place. If that’s the only thing you take away from this EP, regardless of whether or not you like folk music or simple lyrics or Bradley Hathaway, you’ve not missed the point.

Recommended if you like: Any of Hathaway’s previous works. Or if you’ve ever wanted a crash course in folk music. Or if you’re a metal head. Or if you’re a living, breathing human. Take 17 minutes and listen to the whole thing at Relevant’s exclusive stream (Thanks to our friends at Relevant Magazine!). It’s worth your time.

I encourage you to obtain the album legally — you know, by purchasing it. Hathaway made it very clear during our interview that without label support, he can’t continue to do what he does if people don’t buy the record.

To purchase: [from iTunes] [from Amazon]