Todd Snider’s CDs have always been autobiographical and that’s never been more apparent than in his 2004 release from Oh Boy Records, “East Nashville Skyline.”
The liner notes don’t have song lyrics but they have something even better: Todd’s notes in typical Todd style. You can get a real sense of Snider by reading his blog – or by listening to his songs. It’s pretty much the same thing.
He likes to laugh. And tell stories. In spite of everything, he maintains his sense of humor. The last few years, he’s been in and out of rehab. He can make us laugh at that too. It’s probably no accident that he covers Fred Eaglesmith’s “Alcohol and Pills” on this CD. He’s been there.
“East Nashville Skyline” has 12 songs – nine written by Snider and three well chosen covers. Eaglesmith’s “Alcohol and Pills”; Billy Joe Shaver’s “Good News Blues” (dedicated to Billy Joe as a thank you for preventing him from getting shot one afternoon); and “Enjoy Yourself” by Herbert Magidson and Carr Sigman.
The stand out song on this CD is “Play A Train Song,” a song Snider wrote in memory of his “best friend and drinking buddy kenneth francis, skip litz or whatever the fuck his real name was.” The lyrics for this one come straight out of Todd’s blog. And from his heart. And it doesn’t hurt that the harmonica wails like Neil Young is playing along.
“Tillamook County Jail” gives an account of an arrest Todd suffered when going home to visit his mom. He ain’t ever going back to Tillamook County.
He wrote “The Ballad of the Kingsmen” ostensibly about the band from his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Remember them? “Louie Louie.” The song caused quite a bit of consternation when it came out – mostly due to the vagueness of the lyrics. Snider’s song is about some other stuff, too, which he points out in his liner notes. Like the mixed messages we send our children and how, when they’re confused, we like to blame it all on “Alice Cooper or somebody.”
“Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males.” The title says it all.
He’s also got a song about Mike Tyson (“Iron Mike’s Main Man’s Last Request”) and another standout – “Incarcerated” which is Todd’s synopsis of a Judge Judy episode. He sings it really fast, the way she talks.
There is something fragile about Todd Snider – the kind of hypersensitivity you sometimes see in an extremely brilliant or creative person. He’s been known to cut a show short if the audience isn’t properly attentive. So when you see him live with a drunk audience – you don’t know if he’s gonna laugh and go along with the overenthusiastic fans or leave in distress because he feels he’s not being heard. There’s a lot of laughter and a lot of pain, often at the same time.
Snider is a slacker in the true sense of the word – he spends less time deciding what to wear for a show than some people do deciding what to wear to the grocery store. Both times I’ve seen him, he’s shown up in a ratty old t-shirt, baggy pants, and bare feet. And he looks good like that. He probably doesn’t even comb his hair half the time. No one minds.
There’s a stoner quality to his voice that is very endearing. Some days he sounds like he’s had about six too many. Maybe he has but his performances don’t seem to suffer.
Often, what sets “alt-country” apart from regular old country is a sense of humor, a twist on the ordinary. Todd Snider can do that. And he does it well in East Nashville Skyline.
Oh, and if you like Todd Snider, you might also like Adam Carroll. A lot.