Deer Tick is a band that I tracked down because of all the buzz – on the blogs, on Twitter, in the pages of Rolling Stone. I guess I assumed they’d be too “indie” for my tastes, but never judge a book by its cover. What I found instead is the best damn country album I’ve heard all year. No, not Country with a capital C, but country in a raw, dirty, gritty sense – stripped down and real.
The deal sealer for me is the raspy voice of one John Joseph McCauley III. Yeah, I’m a fan of the raspy voiced singers – the Bruces, the Prines, the Earles (and add to the list lately Mr. Ryan Bingham). So hearing a new band that plays with some kick and some twang, with a lead singer that’s anything but smooth & polished – but rough around the edges – that’s always what I’m happy to find.
McCauley and his band mates are only in their early 20’s – but the feel of their latest record, Born on Flag Day, sure doesn’t sound like it came from a bunch of guys fresh out of their teens.
With new music, you tend to have those “oh, this sounds like ___” moments – and this record certainly does have its derivative moments: “Houston, TX” has a bass line reminiscent of the Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”. “Song About A Man” brings Dylan to mind. And the gorgeous 60’s style ballad “Stung” sounds like a country cousin of “You Belong To Me” – if the cousin drank whiskey and raised hell.
There are a lot of standout moments for me on this album…
The opener, and maybe the most “mainstream” of the songs, is “Easy”. Feedback gives way to a twangy guitar solo, the first verse, and lets loose with an explosive chorus: “And you don’t know how easy it is / No you don’t know how easy it is / You were never there/ No never there”.
The late night tavern feel of “Little White Lies” – starting off with a slow tempo, the lazy pedal steel, and launching into an uptempo stomper. Great harmonies by Liz Isenberg.
“Friday XIII”, a catchy shuffle of a tune with some great vocal tradeoffs between McCauley and Isenberg – that traditional banter a la classic Johnny and June Carter Cash. The effects on McCauley’s vocals make me visualize one of those classic old mics from the Elvis days. In fact, those vocal effects show up throughout the album. Sort of a distant echo.
“The Ghost” has one of the more classic country vibes. The rhythm and vocal delivery are punchy and fun. One of my favorites right now…
Hidden in the latter half of the last track, “Stung”, is an intimate, impromptu version of “Good Night Irene” (starting around the 6:00 mark). Beer cans are crackin’, rowdy friends are hollerin’… but the by end, everyone’s singing along, enjoying themselves – and McCauley has them right where he wants them. A lot like the album…
Hear: The Ghost (mp3)
Buy this album: Born On Flag Day
- Deer Tick has has been covering John Prine’s “Unwed Fathers” (including this week’s stop in Phoenix, which I missed). And I hear they cover the Boss too.
- I think I’ve nailed down McCauley’s voice: a mix between Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers and Serge Bielanko, (formerly) of Marah. Anyone?