Release Date: Jun 23, 2009
Record label: Partisan
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Folk
John Joseph McCauley III is a man’s man, a defiant vestige of the days when self-made independence determined your destiny, and men shared their innermost feelings with a bottle rather than a therapist. He has little patience with the Ben Gibbards and Justin Vernons of the world—in fact, he sounds like the guy who stole their wallets and fucked their girlfriends. Honky-tonk hellraisers Hank, Cash, and Merle are his true forefathers, and for him, like so many others, country died when Garth took over.
More focused than War Elephant, Deer Tick's sophomore album, Born on Flag Day, is comprised of ten songs in the straight-up stylings of indie rock and Americana. Vocalist John Joseph McCauley III's singing is still raspy, like a down-home version of Axl Rose, but here, he and his crew flesh out their woodsy sensibilities with a larger scope. This more expansive take builds "Smith Hill" to higher heights with the inclusion of orchestral backing tracks and rounds out "Stung," the tender '60s ballad of the record, with touches of electric piano.
The strangest but most fortuitous moment of Deer Tick's young career occurred recently when the band was chosen by "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams as the first interview subject of his fledgling web-only music-spotlight feature, "BriTunes". Offering a humbling reminder of how awkward any of us can be when we step outside our comfort zones, Williams seemed infinitely more stilted and out-of-sorts querying four scruffily reticent young roots-rockers than he does when sitting down with the leader of the free world. As for Deer Tick, the profile could very well be a major boon, not simply because of Williams' fame and visibility, but even more because of his age and the assumed demographic of his target audience.
Indubitably, Deer Tick‘s first album, War Elephant, was a promising and solid start for the band. The biggest complaint was a silly one, being John McCauley’s gin-soaked, distinct voice. It’s silly because singers need to have at least something unique and identifiable to them and in many ways, his singing was an homage to the singer-songwriter he is channeling, Bob Dylan.
Deer Tick John Joseph McCauley III, the frontman of Deer Tick, is at home with life’s simple tortures. There’s nothing dressed up about his band’s second album, “Born on Flag Day” (Partisan), which sounds as if someone had run over some old Hank Williams sides with sandpaper: loose, gloomy, desperate country, written entirely, it seems, while looking in a cracked mirror. Lyrically it’s a vacuum of joy.
Deer Tick seems destined for knee-jerk adulation and criticism. NPR dads who rock Steve Earle in the Prius, college radio kids with Gram Parsons on their iPods, and fratties who’ll always love a soul-baring singer with a cigarette-wearied voice will flock as one to the band’s next outdoor concert. However, anyone resistant to John Joseph McCauley III’s brodown can easily Google “Deer Tick” and snark at his ersatz down-home trappings (dig those ironic Confederate flag bathing trunks on your website!), invoking the eons-old authenticity complaint against the Providence native.