Music from a time before coffee shops and laptops
East Nashville is a lovely part of the world. It’s nicely gentrified, full of neat houses with neat gardens. There are funky coffee shops where people congregate early and late with their computers.
It’s pretty standard inner urban life but it wasn’t always so. There was a smashing tornado in 1998 which blew away the crack houses and the nastier parts of town.
Some people who lived there then survived. Like Steve Earle who, as was told in Lauren St John’s brutally honest biography Hardcore Troubadour, once escaped from his hospital bed and scurried off to a street corner in that part of town, ward gown gaping in the breeze, waving a $20 bill in the air, waiting for a fix.
Todd Snider lives in East Nashville. He’s a singer songwriter who settled in the country music capital after growing up in Portland, Oregon. His entry to the town wasn’t as dramatic as Earle’s $20 desperado act but he did have some bad habits.
Snider lives a few streets away from a friend of mine, Eric Brace, who is another singer songwriter. Eric used to have what I thought was the best job in the world – he was the nightlife reporter for The Washington Post. He never went to the office and all he wrote about was what was happening in bars like the Black Cat and the 9.30 Club. How good was that?
Anyway, Eric wanted to make music above all – he was the leader of a band, Last Train Home, which put out some pretty good records. So he and his wife Mary Ann live in East Nashville, just down the street from where the crack houses were blown away.
He also knows Todd. It’s fair to say that everyone in Nashville knows everyone else and Snider is in the mix.
Snider first burst on the scene in 1994 with Songs From The Daily Planet – it had one particular song, Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues, which poked early fun at the long haired, stare-at-my-shoes nihilism of his home town. It contained the brilliant lines: “Along come this band that wasn’t even together/now that’s alternative/that’s alternative to alternative”.
Snider’s new album, The Excitement Plan, is the best disc he’s put out. He reckons it’s part of the solution to the economic crisis – a mix of madness and method, hope and humour which is aimed at getting us through the bad times.
For instance, the first song on the album, called Slim Chance, starts with this piece of sly wit: “I found a four piece clover/it had one leaf missing/that’s good enough for me”.
The album features three great standout songs, the best of which is a tune about the music industry called Money, Compliments and Publicity which is the droll ballad of a singer willing to suffer for his art but who just wishes there was a payday.
The best stanza goes like this: “I went to see this therapist/She said, ‘Just do the best you can do’/Do the best you can do…/I was hoping for something more specific” Then there’s America’s Favorite Pastime which is about a legendary time in 1970 when Dock Ellis, the Pittsburgh Pirates major league pitcher, threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres after having consumed some LSD.
“Taking the ground the mound turned into/the icing on a birthday cake/the lead off man came up and turned into/a dancing rattle snake,” he sings.
He’s scored a gusty duet, Don’t Tempt Me, with the Queen of Country, Loretta Lynn, on a classically themed “you’re bad/ no you’re bad” tune he co-wrote with the songstress. It’s kind of country-soul-folk and the pair belt out the lyrics with good humour – Todd shapes up pretty well next to royalty.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty to discover. A fabulous gypsy song, The Last Laugh, which Snider says is his way of “trying to explain myself”. It’s co-written with Peter Cooper, who has a day job as the music writer for The Tennessean, the local Nashville paper. Cooper just released a delightful disc written and performed with the previously mentioned Eric Brace – You Don’t Have To Like Them Both. It’s a nice one but so far not released here.
Unorganised Crime is a song that gives an insight into Snider’s childhood in Portland, where his coke-using father hung out with some lowlife petty criminals, while Greencastle Blues is a grin-sparking tale of a hopeless bloke who still gets arrested into his 40s, wondering “How can you tell when it’s too late to learn’’.
Produced by the man who is popping up everywhere at the moment, Don Was (best known for his work with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones), the disc has the loose and comfortable feel of a live concert.
Was and Snider make sure the crazy stories and quirky characters are not drowned out by fancy instrumentation. It’s a perfect fit.
The Excitement Plan by Todd Snider is out on Yep Roc records.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
Australia. Where you die for your country and get a rest area named after you http://t.co/hO6LpfwDvI
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…