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Published: 2003/09/28
by Glenn Alexander

Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms – Todd Snider

Oh Boy Records 024

Todd Snider's muse seems to be an amalgam of the tragic comic and the
guitar-slinging hitchhiker bent on traversing the earth in search of
confirmation for his left-of-center ideology. A clever, intuitively
amusing character, Snider reels in the stories he has to tell, and delivers
them with a sardonic mix of comedy, wit, irony, and honesty.

Near Truths and Hotel Rooms plays out like a playfully careless,
heartfelt, and comical evening in Middle America's bars. With an astounding
array of singer-songwriters playing these days, this album could play out
like any number of them. But, Todd Snider has such a singular style and
deranged humor, this live album thankfully proves to be a startlingly unique
experience. From the get-go, Snider's style comes to life through the
comically morose, yet heartfelt "Tension," a social commentary song sung
from the perspective of a real-life mentally handicapped songwriter. The
album covers much ground from there on out. He sings about meeting his wife
in the mental hospital in the lovely "Lonely Girl" and performs his clever
"Beer Run" about the unexpected trials of being young and wanting to get
your swerve on. Another highlight is a great version of "Talking Seattle
Grunge Rock Blues," his fictional take on the ridiculousness of modern music
told through the perspective of a band that plays nothing but silence and
gets famous because of it.

His aptitude for telling his stories comes through best on "the story of
the ballad of the Devil's Backbone Tavern," the tale of how his best-written
song came about. He talks of the song's toothless roadside bar, 300-pound
college guys, getting lost in Texas and discovering friends in low places.
"Devils" shows the listener his uncanny ability of collecting a song out of
life's most random and humbly bewildering experiences.

Snider is capable of achieving great emotional depth as well as clever
joviality and ironic parody through his songs. Being able to drift from
sublime personal ballads to rollicking fictional tales with such ease is
quite a gift, one which will establish him among the more
remarkable, and anomalous singer-songwriters of his generation.

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