Tuesday, April 18, 2000

You'll be 'Happy' with Todd Snider's new CD

BY Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I have seen the future of Nashville and it's Todd Snider.

        The young singer/songwriter's fourth album hits stores today. Happy to Be Here, Mr. Snider's first for John Prine's Oh Boy Records, marks a welcome return to the eclectic approach of his 1994 debut, Songs For the Daily Planet.

        His Memphis-bred mix of smart (and occasionally smart-alecky) lyrics with country, blues, rock, gospel and folk settings could be just the thing to inject a little spunk and integrity into today's insipid commercial country scene. It's happened before, when the '70s singer/songwriter movement helped inspire Nashville's shortlived '80s renaissance.

        I first knew Mr. Snider when he was playing the Daily Planet, a small club near the University of Memphis campus. A barefoot hippie troubadour, he looked to be the next big thing out of that music city. He wrote great songs and sang them like he meant every word.

        A decade later, Mr. Snider's open, innocent quality has been tempered by experience. The result, as heard on Happy to Be Here,is a masterful blend of the personal and the universal in 13 story-songs. He sings of lost loves and lost souls, lives gone astray and folk heroes who range from legendary plane hijacker D.B. Cooper to 80-year-old Texas bar owner “Miss Virgy.”

        The slacker kid who sang “Talking Seattle Grunge Blues” and “My Generation (Part 2)” ages gracefully on the disillusioned “Happy to Be Here” (I'm happy to be here to vote randomly on who oughta take the next dive.”) and his jaunty, sick-of-it-all anthem, “Keep Off the Grass.”

        What makes Happy to Be Here such a fine album is Mr. Snider's combination of a modern viewpoint with the freewheelingly eclectic approach of such old-school singer/songwriters as Steve Goodman.

        The disc moves from a soulful, horn-laden “D.B. Cooper” (featuring Memphis Horn Wayne Jackson on trumpet) to the ragtimey “Devil's Backbone Tavern” (with Kettering's own Kim Richey as guest tap dancer); from the hoarse-voiced John Lee Hooker boogie of “Forty Five Miles” to the modern country rock of “What's Wrong With You” (the last two featuring NRBQ's Joey Spampinato on bass).

        But he's equally adept at crafting heartbreakingly simple folk ballads like “Lonely Girl” (buoyed by Tammy Rogers' lovely string section), “All My Life” and “Missing You.”

        His hilariously topical style shines on “Just in Case.” A 21st century love song for the Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? crowd. “Even though we just met, I'm so glad the date is set,” he sings, leading to the chorus, “But just in case ... this morning I went by my lawyer's place.”

        The emotional flipside is “Long Year,” a dark, first-person account of an in-limbo alcoholic equally alienated from both his AA group and his old bar buddies.

        It rings true, like everything else on Happy to Be Here, an album that confidently moves through an ever-changing emotional terrain.

        This richly varied CD culminates on a hopeful note with the bluesy, rock-gospel of “Back to the Crossroads.” “I may be off by a million miles, but I'm gonna find my way back to the crossroads someday. I'm gonna lay my soul in his hands.”

        On Happy to Be Here, Mr. Snider lets us join him on that pilgrimage for a while. It's a journey well worth taking.


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