The Todd Snider Rave
You've read my full-on raves about The White Stripes, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and, most recently, Billy Bragg. You've seen my rave about the pre-'72 Rolling Stones and, in particular, their classic album "Beggars Banquet". You've most certainly NEVER heard any raving from me about Huey Lewis and The News, Kenny G or Engelbert Humperdinck. But you have most definitely heard me rave from time to time about Kanye West, Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, The Clash, Sublime, Prince, '70's Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, OutKast, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and, more than just occasionally, Johnny Cash. And, god knows, you've put up with my constant Raves (and ravings) about Mr. Robert Zimmerman, The Genius, The Master, Dylan, The Bob. But this isn't about any of those greats.
Nor is it about Michael Franti and Spearhead, even though I'm heavily into his/their new album, "Yell Fire!", right now. It's really an amazing album. Every song's great. And that is something you can rarely say about any album. Fantastic lyrics and great music too. Check it out!
But, like I said, this isn't a Michael Franti Rave; what this is, however, is a long-overdue Todd Snider Rave. Along with The White Stripes, Todd Snider is THE new artist I've gotten the most passionately into over the past couple of years. I say "new artist", but he's only new to me; he's actually been around for a long time now. In fact, it was way back in 1994 that he released his debut album, "Songs For The Daily Planet".
However, the first album of his that I, personally, picked up was the truly fantastic "East Nashville Skyline", released in 2004. Next I got "That Was Me (1994-1998)", a best-of collection taken from his first three albums. And then this August I picked up his new album, "The Devil You Know". All three CDs are packed full of great songs. Really REALLY great songs!
His whole style, both singing and playing, definitely evokes comparisons to John Prine (one of my all-time favs) and Steve Earle, while his writing leaves no doubt that he's a huge fan of The Bob (and what great songwriter isn't?). With a sound that is a mix of country, folk and rock, his songwriting is simply brilliant. The first thing you notice is his wit; regularly quite sarcastic and funny, his songs are occasionally outright hilarious. However, he also writes quite emotional and moving songs as well. The man is simply a fantastic storyteller.
There's the song about one of Mike Tyson's bodyguards asking the boss for a short-term loan ("Iron Mike's Main Man's Last Request"); there's the song about the time Todd landed in jail ("Tillamook County Jail") with the lines "Got a lump on my head and a boot print on my chest/From what the guys in here call the Tillamook County lie detector test"; and then there's "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues" an absolutely hilarious send-up of the whole grunge rock movement (though Kurt Cobain, it should be noted, was one of Todd's heroes). Then there's "The Ballad of The Kingsmen", which starts off telling the story of the FBI investigating the Kingsmen over their version of the song "Louie Louie", moves on to Marilyn Manson being blamed by some for the Columbine school massacre, and then continues right on into war, Sunday school and Eminem. Now that's a song!
Or how about "Alright Guy", a song about, well, how Todd's really just an alright sorta guy, but how some people don't always understand that fact; such as when:
"You know, just the other night
These cops pulled me over outside a bar.
They turned on their lights
And they ordered me out of my car.
Man, I was only kidding
When I called them a couple of dicks,
But still they made me do the stupid human tricks,
Now I'm stuck in this jail with a bunch of dumb hicks,
And I still don't know why.
I think I'm an alright guy..."
The new album is chock-full of great songs too. There's "Just Like Old Times", a song about a hooker and a pool hustler/drifter, who used to date back in high school, hooking up for a little reunion party in a hotel room; there's a song based on the time Todd was mugged a few years back ("The Highland Street Incident"), told from the point of view of the muggers; there's the love song to his wife ("All That Matters"); and then there's "Happy New Year", the extremely catchy song that finishes off the album (and even gives a "Happy Birthday" call out to Country Joe MacDonald of Country Joe and The Fish fame, who was born on New Year's Day 1942). It's a great song. Here's a sample:
"I was thumbing through the stations on my own television
When I came across a guy on the religious station
Singing 'somebody's coming' sounding whiter than me somehow
It took me back in time thru dwindling joy
To when I was such a guilt ridden Catholic boy
I'm evangelical agnostic now"
Then there are the two songs that really catch your attention. First you've got "Thin Wild Mercury", a song about the time Dylan kicked folk singer Phil Ochs out of his car back in the mid-'60s after Phil had criticized one of Bob's songs. The song includes the great line "Death of a rebel, twist of fate/If he ever thought better, he thought too late" that, as Todd says in the liner notes, could be about either Phil or Bob.
Secondly, there's "You Got Away With It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers)", which, to a sing-along melody, tells the story of a couple of "rich kid" frat buddies who used to beat up hippies, get pulled over driving around drunk, and worse, but always got away with it due to the connections of one of the two. The song's sung in the voice of one of the buddies singing to the other. It's not until the lines about hanging around at Camp David that it becomes clear just exactly who this well-connected rich kid is. Hint: he went to Yale and now lives in a big white house. The song ends "You'll get away with it/You always do/You'll get away with/This new thing too".
And, finally, you've really got to hear "Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males" from the "East Nashville Skyline" album. But until you do, here's a little taste:
Conservative Christian, right-wing Republican
Straight white American males
Regional leaders of sales
Haters of hippies like me
Lazy-ass hippies like me
Widespread digging hippies like me
Skin color blinded, conspiracy minded
Protesters of corporate greed
We who have nothing
And most likely will 'til
We all end up locked up in jail
By conservative Christian, right-wing Republican
Straight white American males
Now, if you like music, I mean really like really good music - not most of the crap you hear on the radio these days - then you really don't have any choice but to pick up some Todd Snider CDs... and soon! Certain things in life are difficult, other things cause large amounts of stress and anxiety, but luckily there are things like this that take no real thought at all. Yes, it's a no brainer people, go on out and pick up some Todd today. It can only make your life more beautiful and enjoyable. And, really now, who's against a more beautiful and enjoyable life?
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Friday, October 20th, 2006
Now that you've come this far, why not check out Part 2 of my Todd Snider Rave, written just a couple of weeks after the above. If you're not yet convinced of Todd's greatness, perhaps this will help: The All I Am Saying Is Give Todd A Chance Mini-Rave.
January 2008: I've now got 6 Todd albums and they are all fantastic. But my favorite remains "East Nashville Skyline" (an absolute classic!), followed by "The Devil You Know" and "Happy To Be Here". If you don't own any Todd yet, you certainly couldn't go wrong starting out with those three.
To read more Todd Snider raves - about both albums and concerts - click here: Todd Snider
And to read about one hell of a great Todd show click here: Oh What A Night: Todd Snider Live (and John Rogers Fully Exposed)
Or to read a review of his 2008 Peace Queer EP click here: The Todd Snider "Peace Queer" Rave