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Wednesday, 18 April 2007 00:00

Todd Snider looks at life, Nashville with a songwriter’s eye view

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By Chris Cooper

See, the primary difference between Todd Snider and Ryan Adams is that Snider didn’t get so caught up in transforming himself into a freakish “just this side of Gen-X” version of Neil Young that he lost sight of what his gig really is: consistently writing great material that doesn’t eventually disintegrate and dilute itself into self-obsessed nattering and contemplation of one’s navel.

 

Peace, Love and Anarchy (which hit the streets earlier this month) collects a bucket full of fine tunes from his years on John Prine’s Oh Boy Records label in their earliest, often endearingly gnarly incarnations. It’s a perfectly good way to spend 15 minutes shy of an hour.

At random I cued up “Dinner Plans,” not noticing its 13-second running time. So rather than being greeted with a gritty acoustic observation about the depressing survival rate of indie radio, I got a disorienting poem about a couple’s sudden decision to cancel some, well, dinner plans. Was it a proposal or a breakup? We may never know for sure.

But just on the backside of those 13 seconds was the as-yet never committed to album version of “East Nashville Skyline,” and it rocked. Rocked in that slightly inebriated, sleep deprived, smartass way that has been his calling card for well over a decade. Rattling along on the edge of falling apart is Snider’s weathered acoustic guitar and a little brushed snare and tambourine, while Lloyd Green’s gorgeous pedal steel (which makes another inspiring appearance in the beer fueled electric sparring match of “Cheatham Street Warehouse”) holds the whole thing together like glue.

These two songs — along with the spoken word songwriter’s eye view of Nashville in “From A Rooftop”— constitute some of the most fully realized demos to be found on Peace, Love and Anarchy.

But for the sloppy, warts-and-all snapshots that are part and parcel to any b-side and rarity collection worth its salt look no further than the first four cuts. When his guard drops a little and the sarcasm takes a backseat, you get the confessional “what if?” musings of “Missing You,” or the ripe for the picking pop-country ditty “Feel Like I’m Falling In Love.”

Of course, a few tracks later he’s up to his funny as hell tricks again with “Combover Blues.” a painfully chuckle-inducing look at the toll years spent on the road takes on a person. “I Will Not Go Hungry” channels a little of Chris Whitley’s otherworldly blues in its mesmerizing simplicity, a kind of new Americana/gospel hymn that blossoms in this stripped down format.

Nowhere are Snider’s formidable writing chops more apparent than the beautifully penned storytelling of “Some Things Are,” which finds a father reevaluating the just how important the results of an impending paternity test may be. This is where his signature wit gets put to its best use, delivering all the lyrical goodies you could ask for along with a hook the size of the Cumberland River.

Peace, Love and Anarchy runs exactly as long as it needs to, and not a second longer. It’s not always pretty or even remotely “slick,” but it is consistently entertaining — no surprise, considering the source. And artists like Todd Snider serve as reminders that, as easy as it is to dismiss and deride the town as the epicenter of all that has gone wrong in country music, Nashville also will continue to be a haven for the best of those honest and sometimes slightly unkempt songwriters — if only at the street level.

I wish I could put it as succinctly as Rolling Stone did in their colorfully worded description of Snider’s sound when they wrote up Peace, Love and Anarchy, but that kind of language might get me fired. So let’s just say that Todd Snider’s damn good, even when he’s just screwing around while the tape’s rolling.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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