So it’s 2014, and if it’s one thing the last several years in the music scene has taught me it’s that every turn of the season comes with a new obsession tagging along behind it. In 2013 that place was taken by country-folk freshman The Lone Bellow, and in 2012 that throne belonged to the lean punk rock muscle of Bob Mould. To some that might seem like a typical occurrence as long as you’re paying close enough attention, but as any dedicated listener will be eager to pull up a chair and explain, there’s a highly personalized distinction between artists who have it, and those who ARE it. And they don’t happen to come along every day.
While the first group holds a regular nod of affection when their creative turn comes up in our respective playlists, the second bunch of ragtag ruffians are a whole different entity; new and familiar ghosts living rent-free in the machine. They’re the musicians who seem to know how to make the notes speak a little more sweetly, the type that can take three chords and a few verses and make it sound as pretty and as meaningful as poetry backed by the philharmonic. The type that may not necessarily resonate for you, but whispers volumes of meaning in my ear the moment I press play.
So as you perhaps take a moment and think about what that anecdote means from your perspective, let me introduce to you my latest discovery that fits into the all-important latter category. A storyteller of storytellers, a man who blends a haze of drugs and wit against social commentary and less than scrupulous characters; a gonzo personality in a folk singer’s skin if you will. He is Oregon-born yet currently East Nashville’s own resident hippie screwball Todd Snider, and when you can’t find him releasing solo records you may spot him in the common man’s supergroup Hard Working Americans, as alter ego Blind Lemon Pledge, writing books (“I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like”, his first), acting in films (“Peace Queer”, “East Nashville Tonight”), or telling a myriad of his trademark stories live on stage. Snider is a peg that doesn’t really know which hole to fit into, as he’s not quite Tom Waits’ garbageman savant, as sulkily serious a songwriter as Dylan, or as drunk as Bukowski (though I think they’d have some fun stories to swap).
Instead, he is a slice of Woody Guthrie’s rustic folk narrator, a lyricist who can evoke the sincerity of Kris Kristofferson or Jerry Jeff Walker while simultaneously adding his own wry twist on the “balance” of a life that seems to be anything but held securely. And while Snider is much more pot-laced boxcar drifter than classic backwoods outlaw, he inhabits that persona in a way no one else uniquely could. Able to rattle off tales of Guns N’ Roses’ guitarist Slash and his assortment of bracelets and waistlets as easily as “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues”, Snider is as much boisterous barfly as he is entertainer. The type of guy who might lead you on a path of unspeakable adventure through holdups and handcuffs, followed by writing a song the next day that manages to make a point out of it.
He is the essence of a fringe character personified; a musician who can twang, rock and blues it up without the benefit of immense technical skill or Eddie Van Halen musical acrobatics. Rather, Todd Snider is more of a harmonica-wielding peacenik prophet preaching that “Doublewide Blues” out there to the masses. He is this decade’s cock-eyed songwriter; someone who can churn out wisdom as truthfully to the point as “Ballad of the Kingsmen”, as playfully raucous as “The Devil You Know”, and as off the wall as “Iron Mike’s Main Main’s Last Request”. His output is a thing of cult brilliance no matter how you slice your musical tastes, and as someone who will always be dearly attached to the quiet genius of types like Warren Zevon, to me Todd Snider is just like coming home again.
And that my friends, is how a musical obsession gets born here in 2014. From my perspective at least.