Release Date: Jun 8, 2010
Record label: Partisan
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Alternative, Folk
Intimations of mortality After two albums of wily, adolescent country, Rhode Island’s Deer Tick hits adulthood—and all the heartbreak and fear of mortality that comes with it—hard on these ragged, shadowy ballads. John McCauley III’s fiberglass croak couldn’t sound further from Neil Young’s whimper, but The Black Dirt Sessions is this band’s After the Goldrush, stuffed with devastating songs laid bare by weathered, redemption-seeking renegades. In the brooding “Twenty Miles,” McCauley howls, “If you’ve lost your way, I’m seeing you through” with my-time-here-is-limited angst; crawling piano dirge “Goodbye, Dear Friend” is hauntingly intimate (“You carry on … in the unmade bed you slept in, where I laid you down to rest one last time”).
The Black Dirt Sessions, Deer Tick's third full studio album, combines the easy balladry and boozy rock tunes of the band’s prior two releases, but does away with the old-timey blues and country influences. The new sound of the group, which includes new member Ian O'Neil of Titus Andronicus on guitar, is contemporary and sincere. Vocalist John McCauley, the chief songwriter of the group, seems to have found his own distinct voice and is comfortable reeling back and singing quietly, harnessing his muscular, grainy timbre into a sweet instrument.
From the sound of "Choir of Angels", the opening cut from roots rockers Deer Tick's The Black Dirt Sessions, you might think that frontman John McCauley has found some much-needed salvation. Still very much an old soul, his weathered vocals and done-me-wrong worldview has put him in league with characters who have been around much longer than McCauley's 24 years. "The lonely road is behind me," McCauley sings over a melodramatic organ on the doo-wop tinted track, and there's conviction in his words.
There are a lot of ways to get away with facsimile. As bands multiply and ripoff-able influences become scarcer, the ability to twist and reshape tropes has become almost essential for bands working in familiar genres—short of coming up with something truly revolutionary, of course. Duplication can certainly come off fine when it’s handled deftly, with some cleverness and a little sense of humor, but Deer Tick’s The Black Dirt Sessions ignores both of these points, offering a muddy dose of soul-baring alt-country that feels unaware of how tired it all sounds.
John McCauley, the mastermind behind Rhode Island’s Deer Tick, always sounds like he’s straining himself. The parts he gives himself to sing rarely breach the vocal range of the shower-singing average Joe, and yet, every word he’s ever put to tape comes through my speakers like sex groans through a desk fan. I’d understand if that were just the way his voice was, but the heroic steadiness of his grungy whine makes it sound like he’s working to get there.
Blk Jks This South African art-rock band traffics in complexity, cross-hatching not only rhythms and textures but also the signifiers of genre. “Zol!” (Secretly Canadian), an EP due out on Tuesday, includes only five songs but brushes up against kwaito, dub reggae and funk, along with the neo ….
The best set yet from this still-rising Rhode Island quintet. Mike Diver 2010 I don’t make a habit of putting my iPod on shuffle, preferring to hear albums from start to finish. But the other night, weary from the day, I did just that. I was rewarded immediately with the sound of a band I’d forgotten I loved so much: Enablers.
Deer Tick’s third album finds the Providence, Rhode Island band in familiar melancholic territory, with songs that wrestle with tough luck, lost friends, and the search for identity. The band’s songwriting is simple yet timeless, with structures that channel classic southern rock as much as Johnny Cash and Delta blues. Though it’s not a major step forward, The Black Dirt Sessions confronts the tortuous issues of life with impressive resolve.