New Connection – Todd Snider
Oh Boy! Records
Having recorded for Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Records and, now, John
Prine’s Oh Boy label, Todd Snider has obviously captured the ear of the
brandname singer-songwriters he hopes to join.
New Connection, his fifth disc, offers glimpses of him getting there.
Snider, who wound up in Memphis by way of Oregon, California, Texas and
Georgia, first drew attention in 1994 with the satirical "Talkin’ Seattle
Grunge Rock Blues", the hidden track on his 1994 debut. Naturally there’s a
danger in being introduced to a wide audience through a song that’s a spoof
or novelty: the public will expect that from you all the time.
On "New Connection" Snider seems torn between being a tongue-firmly-in-cheek
author of Southern fraternity house anthems or alt-country rocker. The
latter wins out, thankfully, as those are not only the majority of the
tunes on the 13-song disk but also the better material.
Snider is without doubt a gifted songwriter. His voice has the honest
essential to both folk-rock and alt-country and wavers between down-home
charm and a creaky vulnerability. Occasionally, and mainly on his humorous
tunes, he puts on a country drawl that sounds forced.
Snider is at his best when playing unaffected rock that borders on both folk
and country. The title track is a medium paced anthem that defines the
restless spirit theme that persists throughout the disc. He hits another
home run two songs later with "Rose City," which also finds the author not
happy with his current surroundings but works well as a lonely-heart ballad.
"I’ve heard some people say they had it made/back at some place where they
wished they’d stayed/I’m still not afraid to take a chance/I’ve always
thought there was something wrong/with hangin’ around the same town too
long/working the same worn-out song and dance," he sings on the achingly
beautiful "Anywhere". Lyrically, Snider is largely singing about being about
places he doesn’t want to be. By disc’s end it becomes apparent that the
Eden he’s searching for through most of the 13 tracks exists only in his
"Vinyl Records", "Statistician’s Blues", and "Beer Run" are the disc’s
oddities. Remotely funny, they break up the flow of an otherwise solid disc
and aren’t really needed. Two of them continue the annoying – and largely
Southern – tradition of name dropping fellow songwriters in your songs. In
"Vinyl Records", there’s really no way around it because he’s boasting
about, you guessed it, his LP collection but "Beer Run" wouldn’t be better
or worse if it didn’t take place around a Robert Earl Keen concert. It was
one thing when outlaw country artists sang about each other but, in the
modern era of the singer-songwriter, it’s little more than gratuitous.
Throw out those three songs and you have a strong, if predictable, disc.
Label boss Prine shows up for a duet on his own "Crooked Piece of Time". A
horn section livens up songs like "Stuck All Night," which sounds like it’s
going to head toward New Orleans until a banjo puts it back into
Snider is a gifted singer-songwriter. New Directions hints at his
but falls just short of establishing him among the genre’s heavyweights.