Reviews: Todd Snider Near Truths and Hotel Roomsby Jason Gross
Oh Boy Records
“I’ve been driving around for 15 years,” singer-songwriter Todd Snider proudly declares, “making this shit up, singing it for anybody that’ll listen to it—some of it’s sad, some of it’s funny…”
After three tries with a major label, this bright, hilarious songsmith finally found a kindred spirit in fellow wiseguy John Prine. With two more albums now under his belt on Prine’s label, Oh Boy Records, Snider has found the ideal setting for his music—in a live setting, where he can play up his smarts and his jokes, in front of an audience who can provide an authentic laugh track. Armed only with a guitar, a harmonica, and his fertile mind, he cracks wise not only in the banter between his songs but also in the middle of his tunes, with plenty of offhand wisdom and sly humor.
In the first song alone (“Tension”), he lambastes the war on drugs, quotes Bob Marley, analyzes the psychology of movie violence, and zeroes in on what makes people leery of politics (“Republicans… and Democrats”), all of which most singer-songwriters could barely manage in the space of an entire album. Then there’s the joyous singalong “Beer Run” (“all we need is a 10 and a fiver/a car and a key and a sober driver”), a number-crunching tune about using your brain to its full potential (“Statistician’s Blues”), a one-note rejoinder to knuckle-dragging Van Halen fans, a paean to the lighter side of dead-end jobs (“I Can’t Complain”) and the poison-tipped, Dylanesque send-up “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues” (“when we play/we stare straight down at the floor”). He does light-hearted, homespun humor so well that he doesn’t just deserve a spot at a standup club—in a fairer world, he’d replace Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion.
Like Loudon Wainwright, Snider is a poignant, funny storyteller. His only weakness is an occasional mawkish side seen in his love songs, but that’s a minor quibble. This de facto best-of is an ideal introduction to his work, and especially instructive to anyone who thinks that folkies are dry, boring creatures.
Jason Gross is the editor/perpetrator of the online magazine Perfect Sound Forever (www.perfectsoundforever.com). When he isn't writing for other folks or working on post-punk reissues (Essential Logic out now on the Kill Rock Stars label), he can be found crocheting and making his own ammo.