Top critical review
I honestly don't understand this sort of music... it just comes across as reactionary & insubstantial
November 24, 2005
Here's a review from Matt Snook of LaGrande, OR. I offer it here because he has a diferent perspective than most. Matt evaluated this album for the 800+ member Nwbluegrass Yahoogroup that I moderate:
This should have been an easy review. Listen to three seconds of each song, determine that it "ain't no part of nothin'," and report the findings. But I tried hard to like this album, given that Todd is from Oregon, is doing something besides sitting home watching TV, and I'm willing to try new things as long as it's not dangerous. But I honestly don't understand this sort of music, and here's what I was going to write...
"In all fairness, I should say that Todd was not trying to make a bluegrass recording. Todd Snider is a singer-songwriter with some Oregon connections, having lived here for a while. A few of the original tunes have titles or lyrics based on some of his Oregon experiences, like "Tillamook County Jail" and "Ballad of the Kingsmen." On this album he sings, sometimes with harmonies, and is accompanied with various combinations of acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, drums, steel-guitar, dobro, and piano.
The entire project reminds me of some art I see hanging in galleries. You can tell that the artist didn't really have anything in particular in mind at the outset beyond an intention of not doing anything like anybody else. So the work is really just a negative reaction to real art. In this case, we have "true songs about true people" according to the liner notes. Beyond that, no holds are barred. It was recorded rather haphazardly, so it doesn't sound like a slick Nashville (I guess 'west' Nashville) production. Many of the songs don't follow a particular structure, and there's no attempt to make the lines rhyme, or the rhythms flow. None of these criticisms are fatal--it's all been done before with good effect, as long as there is some compelling reason behind it. But in this case it just comes across as reactionary and insubstantial.
So, it must be all about the stories. Some of the time, this is Todd's strong suit. He makes some good observations about life and its ironies, lamenting human frailties and shortcomings, celebrating those things that make us look forward to tomorrow. "Tillamook County Jail" and "Alcohol and Pills" by Fred Eaglesmith are examples. On other tunes the reactionary theme also makes it unnecessary for the song to have a subject..."
That's what I was going to write. Then I noticed that this album has been sitting up around number Ten on the Americana Music charts. So it's obvious that the whole thing must be over my head, and I completely missed whatever it is that this recording is "about." So I'm back to the beginning: it's not bluegrass and you can take that to the bank. Beyond that, you may want to get a second opinion. (Matt Snook)