Hallowed Ground (Violent Femmes album)

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Hallowed Ground
Hallowed Ground.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 1984
RecordedJanuary 1984
StudioSecret Sound Studio, New York City
ProducerMark Van Hecke
Violent Femmes chronology
Violent Femmes
Hallowed Ground
The Blind Leading the Naked
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[4]
The Village VoiceC+[5]
The Vinyl DistrictA[6]
Rockol4.5/5 stars[7]

Hallowed Ground is the second album by Violent Femmes, released in June 1984. Like the band's first album, the songs were mostly written by singer/guitarist/lyricist Gordon Gano when he was in high school. "Country Death Song", for example, written by Gano during his high school classes, was inspired by the tradition of folk songs about "terrible, horrific stories".[8] The album was considerably divisive amongst fans and critics,[9][10] with many at the time falsely thinking Gano's Christian lyrics were ironic.[1]


The material for the album was written and recorded before the release of their first album. With multiple albums ready, the band decided to focus on more pop songs for their debut album and 'confuse people' with the more experimental songs that ended up as Hallowed Ground.[11] They also stated a goal of "being unpredictable"[12] "Country Death Song" was the first song Gano played to Richie after meeting in high school.[13]

The Christian-related lyrics on Hallowed Ground were thought by some to be ironic, but Gano is a devout Christian.[2] The other two members of Violent Femmes were atheists, and initially refused to perform those songs, but after their debut had been recorded, they relented and several of Gano's religion-themed songs were recorded for Hallowed Ground.[2] Gano stated in 1989, "At the time, Brian (Ritchie) was very aggressively anti-anything Christian. He said he didn't want to be playing in a band that was expressing something that he felt so vehemently against."[14] Avant-garde musician John Zorn plays saxophone and clarinet on "Black Girls", and the group Horns of Dilemma perform clarinet and trombone on the rest of the album.[1]

Album artwork[edit]

The album artwork is a photo of a sculpture created by Mary Nohl.[15]


Allmusic, in a 4.5 out of 5 star review, described the album as a "hellfire-and-brimstone-beaten exorcism that both enraged and enthralled critics and fans alike".[4] Robert Christgau gave the album a negative review, stating "everything you might hum along with on the sequel was invented generations ago by better men than he", as well as criticizing the song "Black Girls" for perceived racism and homophobia.[5] Robert Palmer described the album as having "a subterranean mother lode of apocalyptic religion, murder, and madness that has lurked just under the surface of hillbilly music and blues since the 19th century".[16]


Orlando Weekly described the album as both underrated and divisive.[17] The Phoenix New Times, in a 30 year anniversary look-back, called the album the band's "finest musical effort" and praised Gano's lyrics as his "definitive moment as a lyricist."[1] They also stated the album was an early predictor of the Alternative country movement.[1]

Brian Ritchie was interviewed in 2018 about the album's divisive legacy:

People hated it. They hated it because there were a few Christian songs on there. Gordon’s father was a minister. So that was something he was into. Vic and I weren’t religious, but we thought it was funny to play those songs for a punk crowd and rub them the wrong way. To me, it’s more punk to defy your audience than to play what they want to hear. But we lost our audience that way. Ironically, we had the material for both albums. We could’ve put out a double or put “Hallowed Ground” first and then the first album. We chose to make the first one a pop album and chose to make “Hallowed Ground” this sprawling exploration of American roots music. We’re not considered in the Americana category.

— Brian Ritchie[3]

Ritchie later revealed Hallowed Ground was the band's favorite album,[18] and singled out "Never Tell" as his favorite song to play.[19]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Gordon Gano.

1."Country Death Song"5:02
2."I Hear the Rain"1:32
3."Never Tell"7:10
4."Jesus Walking on the Water"3:07
5."I Know It’s True but I’m Sorry to Say"5:05
6."Hallowed Ground"4:18
7."Sweet Misery Blues"2:51
8."Black Girls"5:41
9."It’s Gonna Rain"4:11


Violent Femmes
Additional musicians
  • Mark Van Hecke – piano on "Hallowed Ground" and "It's Gonna Rain", organ on "I Know That It's True but I'm Sorry to Say"
  • Tony Trischkabanjo on "Country Death Song" and "It's Gonna Rain"
  • Christina Houghton – autoharp on "Jesus Walking on the Water"
  • Peter Balestrieri – vocals on "Jesus Walking on the Water", saxophone on "Black Girls", harmonica on "It's Gonna Rain"
  • Cynthia Gano Lewis – vocals on "Jesus Walking on the Water"
  • Drake Scott – cornetto on "Black Girls", sackbut on "Sweet Misery Blues"
  • John Zorn – alto saxophone, clarinet and game calls on "Black Girls"
  • John Tanner – clarinet on "Sweet Misery Blues"
  • Horns of Dilemma - clarinet and trombone
  • Mark Van Hecke – production
  • John Tanner – engineering
  • Warren Bruleigh – engineering



Chart Entry
Weeks charted
ARIA Charts[20] June 4, 1984 56 11


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Woodbury, Jason P. (24 September 2014). "Violent Femmes' Profane Gospel Rock Album Turns 30". Phoenix New Times.
  2. ^ a b c Woodbury, Jason P. (24 September 2014). "Violent Femmes' Profane Gospel Rock Album Turns 30".
  3. ^ a b Dansby, Andrew (July 12, 2018). "This is what happens when a Violent Femme calls". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Monger, James Christopher. "Hallowed Ground – Violent Femmes". AllMusic. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (June 26, 1984). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  6. ^ Neff, Joseph (26 July 2012). "Graded on a Curve: Violent Femmes, Hallowed Ground". The Vinyl District.
  7. ^ s.r.l, Rockol com. "√ I Violent Femmes al loro top". Rockol.
  8. ^ Ripple, Angie (May 1, 2016). "Interview: Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes". Bozeman Magazine. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  9. ^ Rytlewski, Evan (25 July 2017). "Soul Low Give Bitterness a Bright Spin on 'Cheer Up'". Shepherd Express.
  10. ^ "Violent Femmes open Big Gig". www.jsonline.com.
  11. ^ "r/Bass - I am Violent Femmes' Bassist Brian Ritchie AMA". reddit.
  12. ^ http://www.washingtontimes.com, The Washington Times. "Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie on new album, tour and the meaning of punk music". The Washington Times.
  13. ^ Stafford, James. "The Roots of Indie: Violent Femmes". Diffuser.fm.
  14. ^ Blanco, John (14 June 1989). "Gordon Gano's Gospel Hour".
  15. ^ Tanzilo, Bobby. "New book is a fitting tribute to". OnMilwaukee.com.
  16. ^ "Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes". Pitchfork.
  17. ^ orlandoweekly
  18. ^ "r/Bass - I am Violent Femmes' Bassist Brian Ritchie AMA". reddit.
  19. ^ "r/Bass - I am Violent Femmes' Bassist Brian Ritchie AMA". reddit.
  20. ^ Kent, David (compiler); Australian Chart Book 1970–1992: 23 Years of Hit Singles and Albums from the Top 100 Charts; p. 330 ISBN 9780646119175