Under Review: Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions

I can’t really say that I expected to hear a new Deer Tick album so soon.  After all, Born On Flag Day is barely over a year old, and that album was followed by an EP shortly after.  Surely John McCauley could’ve taken some time off, maybe tour the countryside looking for inspiration for material.  Instead he’s given us a set of songs newly packaged as The Black Dirt Sessions.  The songs on The Black Dirt Session were recorded around the same time as those on Born On Flag Day, and it shows.  The quality of the new songs is just as high as the older ones, with a stronger focus on ballads and more delicate sounds.  “Twenty Miles” is a sentimental yet rollicking tune that features some light woodwind accompaniment, and “Goodbye, Dear Friend” is an achingly tender piano-led tale.  McCauley’s burry voice is at the center of “The Sad Sun,” and his strains in the chorus make the tune even more endearing.  As the album progresses, the country- and blues-tinged skin that had previously enveloped McCauley’s songwriting and arranging starts to shed.  Midway through “Mange,” a barroom piano barrels into the otherwise raga-meets-Rolling Stones centerpiece.  It’s an unexpected diversion, as is “Hand In My Hand,” which is positively psychedelic.  McCauley splits the song between a falsetto and a Perry Farrell-ish squelch, which makes for subtle but refreshing changes from his self-constructed formula.  There are a few lesser moments on the album, all of which fail to impress for different reasons.  “Piece By Piece And Frame By Frame” features some of McCauley’s most predictable lyrics yet (that is, until you get to the draggy “I Will Not Be Myself”).  Though they have quickly established themselves as a sturdy and reliable outfit, Deer Tick have yet to produce the work for which they’ll forever be remembered.  Crowded release schedules and modestly impressive albums are suitable for immediate gratification, but what this band needs to do is hunker down and make the masterpiece I know they have in them.

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~ by E. on July 9, 2010.

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