Filed under: Positive Jam Reviews | Tags: album reviews, americana, Born on Flag Day, deer tick, Iggy Pop, John McCauley, Rush, War Elephant
PREVIEW: Download Deer Tick’s “Straight Into A Storm” MP3
WE GIVE IT: 18/20 Watts
This review is part of 20 Watts’ exclusive Positive Jam coverage. Check out the rest here!
Deer Tick’s sophomore effort Born on Flag Day strengthens the notion that some lead singers are blessed with distinctive voices that become the centerpiece of the band. Geddy Lee’s “is that really a guy?” vocals with Rush, for instance, or Iggy Pop’s unhinged, primal scream are two that could easily come to mind. And vocalist John McCauley ranks up there with those rock lumaries for possessing truly unique singing hacks.
For those unfamiliar with their first album, 2007’s “War Elephant,” McCauley’s nasally, grating voice takes some getting used to—his mechanical growl rips like a chainsaw, and at times it’s a miracle to fathom how he can actually change pitch like that of an actual human being. Yet his voice manages to fit in well with the stripped-out sound of this three-piece band, as the mellow bass and guitar work in the background never overwhelms.
Comparatively, the entire album is far more subdued and focused than their previous effort. Most of the tracks throw back to the early days of rock n’ roll as well as country-western, helped along with lamenting, soulful lyrics are that could have been penned by Hank Williams himself. “So please let me be lonely tonight,” sings McCauley softly and moodily in “Little White Lies,” before breaking tempo into a lively whiskey-fueled romp. Electric guitars are kept to a minimum, cropping up occasionally in “Easy” and “Straight Into a Storm” for dramatic effect. Complete with frantic guitar riffs and wild whooping yells, the latter track is reminiscent of those glory days of early 50s rock and could have been plucked verbatim from The Sonics’ debut album.
Yet Deer Tick also expand from these seemingly simple melodies. “Smith Hill” features a moving orchestral track that fits with McCauley’s lyrics: “true love is hard to find.” On “Song About A Man,” his mournful words are punctuated by harmonica solos. And the duet on “Friday XIII” with a lovely female crooner is pure country, a veritable slice of down-South Americana for a band that hails from Rhode Island.
These are songs reminiscent of a bygone past: a homage to all the great honky-tonk heroes taking their tales of woe and lost love to whiskey joints across Texas and the Mason-Dixon line, with a weathered Rickenbacker in the backseat of their 1954 Cadillac. It’s the emotion contained within the lyrics that Deer Tick captures so seemingly effortlessly, multiplied with that impossible to replicate voice, which marks their second album as a success.
— Blake Rong