Tag Archives: alt-country

Todd Snider Is An Alright Guy

There are few things better than going out to a club to see a live show that winds up dazzling you, but one of them is doing that with a group of long-time friends. So yeah, last night I was blessed.

I’ve been a fan of Todd Snider ever since I first heard the hilarious “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues“, an epic comic ramble that simultaneously took a good-natured swipe at Seattle’s overrated music scene and announced the arrival of this master storyteller and musician. But I’ve never had the opportunity to see him weave his magic in person until last night, when he not only held the crowd at the German House Theatre in the palm of his hand, he occasionally slipped us into his pocket. I swear at one point he juggled us, too. Stuffed with a cross-section of his catalogue, the set list was at once immensely satisfying (every song a gem) and mildly frustrating (couldn’t I hear about two dozen of the others?).

After enduring a stupefying opening act that can only be described as a folkie channeling Tony Clifton, Todd Snider shuffled onto the stage to the theme from Sanford And Son. Barefoot – his moonshine hat tipped in honor of the crowd – Snider took control from the first note and didn’t let go. No light show, no staging – hell, I don’t think he even switched guitars – Snider won the crowd over with a combination of charm, humor and songwriting chops that can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. It would not be sacrilegious to drop the names of some of the masters because even Steve Goodman, John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III would have been on their feet last evening.

This quote from Jerry Jeff Walker probably says it best: “He has found a way to take his feelings and observations and turn them into songs that can get an audience…he won’t quit til he gets the audience and he always gets the audience.”

Damn right. The songs were magnificent, the stories he told to set up the songs were incredible, and even the faux chicken dance he would occasionally pull out to return the crowd’s favor was perfection. I could have listened to his songs all night, even if he never told a story. I could have listened to him tell stories all night even if he never played a note. I don’t know which one he’s more skilled at, but I’m thankful he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

And the funny thing was despite the spontaneous standing ovations, despite the singalongs and the shout-outs and the requests, I think Snider might have had an even better time last night than we did. I guess when you struggle for a while and then find your zone and know it, it’s magical. Imagine the reward of creating art and seeing people walking past flash and fashion and lowest common denominator entertainment to show up at your door. Todd Snider reaps that reward every night.

I didn’t know my town had it in ’em. I guess they’re alright guys, too.

Go get Todd Snider Live: The Storyteller and Near Truths and Hotel Rooms right now, that will give you a sniff of what to expect. And then don’t miss this genius when he comes your way. Hell, get in your car and go find him.

Todd Snider’s website

Eighteen Minutes

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Blast From The Past: Whiskeytown

When the insurgent roots music movement started to take hold – call it alt-country, No Depression or Y’Alternative music – a flood of bands that tied back to Gram Parsons, Neil Young and classic country artists from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash started to milk a serious buzz. Near the front of the pack was a loosely raucous band from Raleigh, North Carolina called Whiskeytown, and their lead martyr singer and songwriter Ryan Adams.

A skilled and interesting collaborative band (with Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric “Skillet” Gilmore and Mike Daly), Whiskeytown released its debut Faithless Street, which bowled over critics and landed them a major label deal. By the time the second album Stranger’s Almanac was released, the group was known for its self-destructive tendencies as much as its musical brilliance, the lion’s share of that squarely on the head of Adams. Reading interviews at the time I realized that I was watching someone emulating Keith Richards; I just didn’t know how much of it was by accident.

Thankfully, I was wrong about Adams in a multitude of ways. He didn’t drink himself into an early grave, even when the band imploded in 2000. In fact, he was so prolific between 2000 and 2005 (eight releases!) that the plaudits became even more gargantuan. Like some of his heroes and influences, he juggled both popular acclaim and commercial success, and it looked like he was a step away from releasing that album or song that would place his name on everyone’s lips (or perhaps spontaneously combust).

Having juggled the solo image and with his more traditional band The Cardinals, he opted for the latter and released two more albums over the next five years. Like contemporaries and heroes Wilco, he’s prone to experiment with styles and now has left them to form a rock trio. I haven’t even heard Orion, his newest record; I’m not certain I want to hear Ryan Adams doing metal (even if he did get his start in a punk band). But there’s no denying the early classics, and I hope he still has a few tricks like that left in his worn out sachel.

Here’s my short shot review of Strangers Almanac from 1997:

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Ryan Adams is a hell of a songwriter for a guy in his early twenties, but I’d get the suicide watch started right now. Desperation set to music works both ways, and Adams mines the vein like the forefathers he so drunkenly pretends he isn’t influenced by (perhaps his own line sums it up best – “I can’t stand to be under your wing”). When he’s more uptempo he wears his Paul Westerberg on his sleeve (“Yesterday’s News”) and other times a Neil Young ghost will rear its head (“Turn Around”).

But he’s also savvy enough to diversify the instrumentation. Fiddle and horns alternately pick a song up (“Sixteen Days”) and take it out at the knees (the pained and haunting “Everything I Do”). One of the most powerful and depressing records of 1997, and I mean those both as compliments.

Listen to clips from Strangers Almanac

Whiskeytown page at Lost Highway Records


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