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Published: 2011/10/25
by Brian Robbins

Deer Tick
Divine Providence

Partisan Records

If The Replacements had stumbled out of the studio after their one-and-only performance on Saturday Night Live (a beautifully-twisted two-song ‘Mats blow-out on January 18, 1986 – after which they were banned from the show); had crawled into an old Ford Econoline loaded with beer and a couple bags of BBQ chips; had got the thing pointed in the right direction and roared up I-95 to Pawtucket, RI; had managed to pry the door open to Machines At Magnets studio and stivvered their way in, instruments in hand … if – if -all these things had happened, then the album they might have recorded before finally passing out would probably have sounded like Deer Tick’s Divine Providence.

And that’s a good thing.

The fact is, Divine Providence is the closest that a studio album could possibly come to capturing the sound of a pull-the-cord-and-let-it-rip Deer Tick live show without the threat of having someone – including the band – puke on your shoes. (Unless that sort of thing happens around your place on a regular basis. In which case, have at it.)

Deer Tick are masters in pulling off The Replacements’ style of drunk-guy-on-the-highwire rock ‘n’ roll without ever sounding like imitators. There’s no need to: these crazy bastards are good at what they do. Multi-instrumentalist Rob Crowell can ripple the ivories like ol’ Jerry Lee Lewis, lay down walls of organ chords like a slightly-crazed Booker T, and blow the walls down with Bobby Keys-style sax as needed. Chris Ryan’s bass playing is like a good character actor: whether he’s in the background or the foreground, he always shores up the scene with the proper emotion. Guitarist Ian O’Neil is as equally at home with flaming chainsaw punk chords as he is sweet twang – and drummer Dennis Ryan is right there with him. And then there’s John McCauley, whose voice and guitar work are cut from the same cloth: he might be coming to you from atop a sun-soaked split-rail fencepost, astride a piss-stained barstool, or at the foot of a long, dark stairwell full of broken heart – it doesn’t matter. McCauley is nothing but real.

Forget about Lulu, Lou Reed’s new collaboration with Metallica. Deer Tick’s “Chevy Express” sounds like a Transformer -era Lou fronting an unplugged Nirvana: vivid pictures doled out by McCauley with seen-it-all weariness over an acoustic foundation that smolders with a certain degree of threat. “The Bump” combines a recorded-behind-the-furnace-in-the-basement quasi-John Lee Hooker vibe with a boys-at-the-bar chorus. Dennis Ryan’s drums on “Main Street” evoke memories of some long-forgotten gal group classic – up until the moment that McCauley wails, “I can’t sleep/I can’t close my eyes” and the guitars begin to get restless and paw at the groove. Speaking of Dennis Ryan, his lead vocals on the deceptively-jaunty saddle bounce of “Clownin’ Around” brilliantly capture the soul of the storyteller. (Junkie cowboy, perhaps? It matters not – he’s doomed, regardless.) O’Neil takes a turn at the mic as well, leading the way through the grungy surf/pop of “Walkin’ Out The Door”.

“Funny Word” allows for churning guitars and keys over top of a visciously slamming rhythm bed laid down by Ryan and Ryan. “Love is such a funny word,” McCauley slings/growls/bellows as the band tumbles down and crashes in the sort of glorious heap that Jimmy Miller never allowed The Stones to capture in the studio. “Let’s All Go To The Bar” is stupid – and joyously so. And “Miss K.” is a happy drunk’s take on Springsteen’s “Born To Run” without the drama:

Come on Miss K
Wrap your loving arms around me
Talk dirty
Turn me on
Let’s get going

It’s just that simple.

So, stand back and give them room – just like that beer-soaked and BBQ chip-crumbed Econoline roaring up I-95, Deer Tick is on a serious roll with Divine Providence. This is solid, untethered rock that’s smarter than you might think. Crank it up and watch out for your shoes.

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