Various Todd Snider reviews/features from The Rage...
Oh Boy Records
While watching the interminably long first round of last month’s NFL Draft, the point was repeatedly made that you really couldn’t grade out this year’s draft until five years down the road.
Todd Snider’s been making music for well over five years, but his newest effort, New Connection, is his fifth record, so it’s time to take a quick look back.
His debut, Songs For The Daily Planet, cast the transplanted Oregonian as a young, punky yet insightful smartass. If you look across the mists of time and music at New Connection, you notice that Snider has become an older, wiser and more sensitive smartass.
Mission accomplished. He’s exactly the player we thought he’d be.
Whatever Snider ultimately takes from songwriting -- be it pleasure, comfort, therapy, those kinds of things -- it’s clear he relishes the ability to tell a story within the framework of a pop song. His songs show him as the kind of guy you’d hand a guitar at a party, and he’d strum for his life until the last guest left, and he’d not only totally enjoy the experience, but he’d probably have written three or four new songs for himself.
Much like on his debut, Snider digs list songs, and Vinyl Records could serve as a manifest for an insurance company should Snider’s record collection ever get stolen, while Statistician’s Blues put the fun back in “fun with numbers.” But you can tell Snider’s also spent the intervening years working on the inside, as Rose City hearkens back to his hometown and Easy is essentially a love poem to his wife. There’s a troubadour lurking within the party guy…not that he’s averse to chronicling the party guys, as on Beer Run, an older and far superior tune than the Garth Brooks/George Jones “duet” fiasco from last year. There’s even the moment of unadulterated hero worship, as Snider croons with Oh Boy label steward John Prine on a cover of Prine’s Crooked Piece of Time.
You feel good for Snider as you hear his voice mesh with Prine’s, because you know that, this many years down the road, this is one of the places Snider would most like to be: making great music with his friends. Mission accomplished.
-- Lucas Hendrickson
East Nashville Skyline
Oh Boy Records
Survival, in and of itself, changes nothing. And if nothing else, Todd Snider is a survivor.
Oh, he’s a bunch of other things, too, like a “tree-huggin’, peace-lovin’, pot-smokin’, porn-watchin’, lazy-ass hippie” as he describes himself on track eight (the title of which we’ll touch on in a minute) of his newest record, East Nashville Skyline.
But the underlying theme of the album is that Snider is a survivor. Whether or not he’s happy about it, nobody really knows.
This record is part therapy and part diatribe, albeit in a very folky way, for Snider, who spent most of last year in physical and psychic misery. He lost a close friend to a heart attack, and somewhat lost his mind (and more than a little stomach lining) thanks to alcohol and pills. Once he pulled himself from most of the darkness associated with all that, he began to write, and slowly got around to recording some songs with the help of longtime bandmate Will Kimbrough and engineer Eric McConnell.
Those songs more or less accidentally became a full record, full being the operative term. It’s full of observations from a prolific and troubled and experienced songwriter who’s trying to live life right now with music as his only drug, and those observations, both about himself and the world swirling around him, are spot-on.
Snider likes lists, and the sheer volume of items and/or descriptors used to describe said items is amazing to behold. Case in point: the title to aforementioned track eight, Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males, a loping polemic made up primarily of adjectives. On Alcohol And Pills, he rolls out the slate of great artists felled by substance abuse brought on by the pressures of fame. On Good News Blues, Snider’s character has some good things happen (if you can call your woman leaving good, that is) that leave him “smiling on a rainy day,” but you can still sense the sadness.
On the record’s opener, Age Like Wine, after wrapping up the hyperbolic list of things he’s run though during his career, like “seven managers, five labels, a thousand picks and patch cables,” Snider recites a line that is all at once profound, scary and reason enough to listen up: “I thought that I’d be dead now…but I’m not.” Keep surviving, Todd…and we’ll keep listening.
-- Lucas Hendrickson
One of the more recent New Year’s celebrations to pop up involves taking the prior year’s calendar and tossing it onto a bonfire, vowing not to look back at the bad things that year brought.
With the 2003 Todd Snider had, not one person would blame him if he snatched up every calendar he could get his hands on, light them ablaze, shovel the ashes into a coffee can, put it in the trunk of a car, drive to a junkyard, crush said car and then set that on fire.
Snider lost his best friend when Skip Litz succumbed to a heart attack in July 2003, and then spent the better part of the next few months self-medicating, and not in a good way. Snider was scheduled to begin a series of shows in the fall when he found himself first in a Florida airport and the next thing he knew, he was in a hospital bed.
“I’m still not sure what happened, but I messed up my stomach on pills and alcohol,” Snider tells The Rage. “I wasn’t trying to kill myself, I was just trying to see how far I could take things, and how far released from pain I could get.”
That scare led Snider to a stint in rehab, treated for substance abuse and depression. “Everyone’s always called me crazy and now I’ve got the paperwork to prove it,” he says. “The hard part is that things with the music have been going better than ever in my life. I’ve never really asked people how many records I’ve sold, but I can tell by the way [Oh Boy Records exec] Al Bunetta hugs me lately that it’s going OK.”
But in the aftermath, he’s found a renewed spirit for his chosen craft, using the processes of playing music and songwriting as therapy. “When I felt like I was ready to go back out into the world, I went over to Eric McConnell’s studio, this great house where he’s put all this vintage equipment in,” Snider says. “He’s got all these dogs there, and I started walking over to his house every day just to get out and see people. He’s a steel guitar player, so we started to jam a little, so we called Will Kimbrough over, who’s always been like a big brother to me, and I think we made a record.
“Oh Boy really likes it, but it’s still brand new, and we’re still listening to it and don’t know the sequence yet or the name, but there’s 15 songs so I think I’m going to have a new album out pretty soon,” he says.
Meanwhile, there’s still the little matter of playing live, first with two shows with his ragtag band The Nervous Wrecks, and then a slate of solo dates. To say Snider has some trepidation would be an understatement, but he’s confident he can work through it. “Those first few shows, I’m gonna just go back to the hotel and chill out,” he says. “But it’s important to me to be able to go out and meet the crowd. My crowd seems to be really nice and they remind me of my family, but there’s always the one guy who everybody says you have to meet, and his name’s Viper Snake, wait’ll you hear what he did to the water tower two years ago. And I think, ‘Well, here comes my next song.’
“Usually, Viper Snake will trip over some song title for you, and you’ll be at the end of the bar writing it down. I call it the ‘Billy Joe Shaver Method,’” he laughs. “I’m gonna miss that, and hopefully I can find another way to do that. I betcha some of those people who don’t eat acid do some funny things too.”
-- Lucas Hendrickson
Sometimes it’s best to just let Todd Snider describe himself. Case in point: a discussion we had just prior to the release of his excellent 2004 record, East Nashville Skyline. This following is verbatim and pretty much delivered in one breath:
“I just typed this down. This should be in a handbook. ‘All records are supposed to be promoted more or less this way: I’m supposed to say these are the best, most honest songs of my life and how I’m really in a good place now and I think I really got it right and fun and free this time and how the label really let me do it my way this time and how they’re really gonna get behind it this time and wow, I’m really happy to be on Oh Boy.
Another thing: we asked to be let off the big label so we could be on the smaller one, which is another load of s--- you hear from people at record time.
In my case, and since I’m on the same label, I’m supposed to say something like Oh Boy’s like family to me and it’s all just about the music and I just wanted good songs and that all that means anything and this one’s for the fans and I really dug deep for this and Will Kimbrough outdid himself for this and blah, blah, blah. Bulls---. And bulls--- from me and everybody else. It’s bulls--- when you hear that. I got a new album, it’s coming out, I hope you like it, it might ruin my career.’”
Clearly, Todd, it hasn’t. And we’re looking forward to hearing more, and soon.
-- Lucas Hendrickson