The Howling Hex

XI (Drag City)

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The Howling Hex indie rock Royal Trux

Neil Michael Hagerty hasn't released a great album in five years. That's peculiar, because the dude — first as a member of Royal Trux, then as a solo artist — released no fewer than 10 great albums between 1990 and 2003. But sometime in 2004, not long after the release of Neil Michael Hagerty & the Howling Hex, he started slumping. After the Trux fell apart at the top of the decade, Hagerty channeled his newfound freedom into three excellent solo records. As time wore on, however, his limitations emerged.

Hagerty is a soulful growler and virtuoso freak-blues guitarist, but he lacks the pop IQ of former Trux partner Jennifer Herrema. Trying to hide this, he formed the Howling Hex around the philosophy "This is a group; I'm just the bass player." So XI is yet another desultory collection of limp funk rock and listless boogie, with a couple of exceptions. And while Hagerty's bar-rock flunkies occasionally groove, they're bad songwriters and even worse singers. Artistic ruts are a bitch to crawl out of — just ask Dylan. But Hagerty could start by scrapping this boring group.

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