(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

CD review - Todd Snider, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (2012)

The raconteur is back with more stories from the fringe

If there's a brief summary for the characters in Todd Snider's songs, New York Banker comes close: "Good things happen to bad people" and, of course, its corollary about good people. In this case, Snider uses his song to explain the whole banking crisis and add a human element. The sloppy, bar band alt-country rock music frames the song as if Snider is the slightly drunk high school teacher bitching about his fate. If the Occupy movement could settle on an anthem, it ought to be this.

Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables carries on Snider's tradition of using fringe characters and their stories to throw some perspective on our own lives. Sometimes the themes are big, like New York Banker or the cynical assessment of religion, In the Beginning. Other times, he closes in on smaller, personal stories. Either way, despite his casual speak-singing delivery, he lavishes attention on each track. Even on the most tossed off songs, like The Very Last Time, which promises that this last time is not like all the other last times, he still creates a moment of poignant perfection:
I had a dream where you came to see me
You asked if I was okay
That's how I knew that I was dreaming:
You asked if I was okay
The matter of fact tone and lack of self-pity combines with pig headed optimism to give the simple idea some depth.

Agnostic Hymns reaches back to the ramshackle feel of The Devil You Know. The unreliable narrator/scam artist of In Between Jobs is a younger brother of the confident construction worker in Lookin' For a Job. Snider's voice drifts across the dirty blues licks, spinning his web. His cocky attitude encourages distrust but also a grudging respect:
There's only one way to win this shell game
Be the one that gets the other guy to play
You think I'm not very bright and you might be right
I might have been born yesterday
But I was up all night...
The least direct song on the album, Brenda, paints Keith Richards and Mick Jagger as flawed lovers that offered each other redemption. While that probably shouldn't be read literally, Snider gets awfully close to a deeper truth. Whether or not the Rolling Stones' chemistry "was true love", Snider shares the true love in his heart.

Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is another fine Todd Snider album. He doesn't really break new ground, but, like a great raconteur, Snider shows us what he does best without repeating himself.

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