Rhode Island’s contribution to the budding alt-country genre, Deer Tick, came to my attention a year ago when I heard “Easy” on Seattle’s KEXP radio, and from that point on I had to have more. More raucous southern rock-inspired guitar riffs. More gritty vocals and Let-me-tell-you-about-having-the-Blues lyrics. More music that didn’t sound like it was made for listeners aged 15-22 but instead by a young band that appreciates older, great musicians like John Prine, Hank Williams, and Chuck Berry.When I saw them in concert last fall at the Black Cat, I loved hearing all my favorite tracks from the first LP, War Elephant, and the following LP, Born on Flag Day. Still, their wild, rock & roll performance complete with a few forgotten verses and sloppy stage presence after a few too many drinks had me worried the band wouldn’t make it to album 3 for one reason or another.I’m happy to say they made it. Oh, they made it. With a packed tour schedule and a more emotionally complex and well-produced, well-written album to show for it. The main change I see on The Black Dirt Sessions (named for the New York Studio where the band recorded) is that a majority of the songs are more overtly sad or bitter in sentiment compared to previous albums. Tracks like “Goodbye, Dear Friend” and the duet “Sad Sun” are perfect examples and the former is one of the few on this album featuring McCauley playing slow tempo, melodious piano and it pairs nicely with his rough and raw voice. They’re great songs and very sincere, but I preferred some of the more fun tracks from earlier albums.
The songs I like best on this album are the few up-tempo ones. What can I say? I like music that makes me want to dance. The track, “Mange,” begs to be used in some kick-ass movie ending. It’s definitely my favorite off this album with lots of attitude and many more instruments and layers than their earlier stuff. Sometimes when you see bands bringing in a whole bunch of “new sounds” it ends up sounding sloppy and overdone, but I think Deer Tick really shines on the tracks where they’ve taken some risks. “Twenty Miles” also stands out with an infectious beat and bass-line that makes you want to tap along.
The album ends with a new version of “Christ Jesus” from War Elephant. On that first album, it was my absolute least favorite track. This time, it’s one of the strongest songs – raw, more emotional, and pleading rather than angry shouting with a string section and piano changing the tone entirely. To me, ending with this song is a symbol of how the band will always carry the same spirit, but it also says, “Don’t pigeon-hole us (coughcough*Pitchfork*coughcough), we can grow and change and still rock you silly.” I have high hopes for Deer Tick and plan to see them live again soon… but maybe I’ll skip the Jack Daniels shower in the front row this time.
Recommended Tracks: “Mange,” “Twenty Miles,” “I Will Not Be Myself”
(I highly recommend “Baltimore Blues No. 1” and “Art Isn’t Real” from War Elephant if you’re thirsty for more Deer Tick.)