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The Lowdown:

Todd Snider

Based In:
East Nashville, TN



Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables

Release Date:
March 6, 2012

Aimless Records

Previous Releases:
Songs for the Daily Planet (1994), Step Right Up (1996), Viva Satellite (1998), Happy to Be Here (2000), New Connection (2002), Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (2003), East Nashville Skyline (2004), The Devil You Know (2006), Peace Queer (2008), The Excitement Plan (2009), Live: The Storyteller (2011)

Americana,, blues


Related Articles:

***Artist, Album*** cover art

Rating: 9 out of 10



May 24, 2012


June 2012 Featured Review

Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Two things are immediately evident from this photo: Todd Snider is a man with his own style, and he never takes himself too seriously.

Todd Snider is a tough man to describe. That’s because there’s really nobody to compare him to. He’s so unique that any attempt to equate him with a past figure falls short. Phil Ochs, a man he once sang about, comes to mind. Snider has that same sense of social justice in his music, and their stage presence is similar. But even when he was singing a funny song, Ochs never seemed to have a sense of humor about himself. Snider definitely does. He’s not gonna worry whether his songs change the world. If they do… great. If not, he’ll just light up another joint, chill out, and write another one. Maybe the only true comparison would be Woody Guthrie. Ok, Snider’s not that epiphanic, but if any modern songwriter could pen a workingman’s anthem like “Pastures of Plenty,” a politically nuanced ballad like “This Land is Your Land,” and a comedy song about his hometown being destroyed by a dust storm like “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya”—all with equal adroitness—Snider would be the man.

In some ways, he’s a throwback to earlier protest artists like Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Ochs and Dylan in the topical nature of his songs and his lyrical prowess. His “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males” is one of the greatest political satires ever written. “Lookin’ For a Job” stands with James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here” as the greatest blue-collar anthems of the new century. “The Devil You Know” is an incredible romp that paints an intense picture of those not-yet-gentrified havens often inhabited by both artists like Snider and members of the no-way-out class, highlighting their unified struggle against authority. But while Snider may be a barefootin’, pot-smokin’, cockeyed-hat-wearin’ hippie who cares about as much for the label on his clothes as he does for the quality of his tennis serve, he’s not just a man in the mould of his latter-day forefathers. If there’s anyone who embodies the zeitgeist of our times, it’s Snider. His latest release, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables proves this point, and it’s filled with modern-day anthems for the 99%. It’s not so much a rallying cry as it is a colorful portrait of how all of us are getting screwed every day we wake up and greet the sun. In short, it’s pure Todd Snider brilliance.

Befittingly, we begin “In the Beginning.” Snider has long been a critic of religion, questioning those who pretend they have all the answers to unanswerable questions. He’s not exactly Richard Dawkins, but in songs like “The Ballad of the Kingsmen” he makes a good layman’s argument against letting religion rule our lives. The leadoff track to Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables expands upon this theme more than ever, laying out an alternative anthropological explanation for the beginnings of religion.

I have often said that religion is the world’s second oldest profession, with purposeful comparison meant to the first. At least in the case of prostitution, the buyer gets something real for his money. Religion just got started when one guy noticed that he was a really good storyteller and that if he told people what they wanted to hear—like that he knew what happened to you when you died or that he had a sure-fire way to make the crops come in—then he didn’t have to do any actual work and everyone else would take care of him. Snider suggests in this parable that religion actually started with a rich man beset upon by his less fortunate brethren and in need of a shield to keep himself from getting lynched. What better way than to convince them that he and god were tight?:

This is classic Todd Snider. I can just hear him rustling awake, looking up, and saying, "Aw, fuck all y'all."

God gave me this because I’m humble,
And he can do the same for you, too.
But if you’re seeking his love and affection
What you’re doin’ is the last thing I’d do.

He sends killers to hellfire
Both here and eternally.
The good live forever in a place called Heaven.
God told me this, personally.

Who you gonna trust if you can’t trust me?

Eventually the storyteller gets all the others to work for him. They’re placated but they never get what they wanted in the first place, which was a little bit of equality:

And with that we role into the future
And ain’t it a son of a bitch
To think that we would still need religion
To keep the poor from killing the rich?

It’s the strongest song on the album and with its finely crafted tale, it’s destined to become another Snider lyrical classic. This album is much blusier in tone than Snider’s previous works, and he sets that tone right from the beginning. The whole tale is set on a backdrop of a resonant electric guitar, driving bass, and a particularly pleasing—if haunting—fiddle provided by Amanda Shires.

There’s more than a hint of Woody Guthrie in the next track, “New York Banker,” and not only in the harmonica opening. The story, in fact, is kind of a modern-day Okie tale, with Tom Joad in the person of an Arkansas public school teacher whose retirement plan is manipulated by a Wall Street type to purposely fail so that he can bet against it. It’s a personal reflection of the insanity of our modern-day market system, wherein the New York banker runs off with the spoils and the protagonist is left holding the bag. As Snider says, “Good things happen to bad people.” Again, Shires’ well-placed fiddle accents are a star here, and her background vocals (a rarity in a Snider album) seem to offer a boost to his point as she chants along with this line.

Perhaps the most depressing song on the album is a waltz from the pen of none other than Jimmy Buffet. I guess he must have gotten a nasty infection from a rusty old bottle top, because “West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown” is dark. It tells the story of a down-and-out woman hitching a ride on the side of a highway, from the perspective of the driver who gives her a ride. She tells him of her high-society upbringing and her eventual fall. As they pass through Cincinnati, she decides it’s too close to Nashville for her, and bails out, leaving the driver with a kiss and a note:

She told me I could read it if I mailed it in Nashville.
On old loose-leaf paper to her mother she wrote:

"Mama I'm fine if you happen to wonder.
I don't have much money but I still get around.
I haven't been to church in near thirty-six Sundays
So fuck all those West Nashville grand ballroom gowns."

Snider has a knack for making covers seem like his own (and frankly his version is a lot better than Buffett’s), and the song, based mostly around acoustic guitar but again complimented greatly by both Amanda Shires’ violin and voice, fits in perfectly with the downtrodden meme of the album, painting a portrait of one of the 1%ers who swung precipitously to the other extreme.

Snider actually seems kind of out-of-place in the studio, like it constrains him. His real place is onstage, where his freeform storytelling style shines. Still, the group of musicians he collected to produce this record did him proud.

“In Between Jobs,” like Snider’s masterpiece “Lookin’ For a Job,” is an anthem for the working-class guy doing what he can. This one isn’t quite as good, but it’s got a cool, funky groove, a bluesy-ass harmonica and an awesome, crazy chanting chorus. The song’s format is a one-sided conversation between a poor man and a rich one. Snider may be a peace-and-love type, but it’s obvious that he’s ticked off by the way things are going these days, as his protagonist again contemplates violence as a solution to his troubles. In a parallel with the leadoff track, religion seems to be no constraint, but he does couch his anger in a biblical reference:

It’s the root of all evil, I agree,
And I suppose the blossom would be my kinda poverty.
I know how mad I’m gettin’ just knowin’ how much more you’ve got than me.
I’m thinkin’ what’s keepin’ me from killin’ this guy…
Takin’ his shit?

“Too Soon to Tell” again mixes agnostic and 99%ers’ revenge themes, this time in a power blues style with a hint of gospel in the mix. Actually, it’s all over the place thematically, as if Snider were trying to stuff everything he’s learned about life into one little package. But rather than being unfocused, it’s overflowing with goodies, and is both a lyrical and a musical standout. Terrific lines are peppered throughout, but perhaps the most powerful is the penultimate stanza:

At the fortune teller’s on the second floor
In bright red letters hangin’ off of the door
It said, “closed.” I think it might’ve been some kinda sign.
Don’t give up on me, baby. I think I could be losin’ my mind

I’ve just met too many people that I love too much.
They’re scattered all over; I could never stay in touch
With travellin’ almost forever it seems.
You too will wake up one morning with a lot more memories than dreams.

Perhaps more than any other song on the album, this one benefits from the musical prowess of the East Nashville pickup band Snider assembled for the recording. And have I mentioned how fucking awesome Amanda Shires is?

“Digger Dave’s Crazy Woman Blues” is a bit schizophrenic, being one part strange murder ballad and one part song-within-a-song mock misogyny. The former sections are delivered in something akin to a talking blues style, but in a frantic, stream-of-consciousness style, juxtaposed with the ambling bass part. The choruses of the latter sections again have a tinge of gospel to them, thanks to organ accents and Shires’ choir-inspired voice. Yeah, it’s weird. But it’s cool.

Despite its extra musical power, "Big Finish" isn't as impressive as some of the other tracks, but it does include one awesome motherfucker of a couplet:

Tryin' to find some kinda way to cope.
You've got to admit it ain't the despair that gets you; it's the hope.

Todd's got the right idea here... pour yourself a slug, chill out, and put this album on repeat. You won't regret it.

Simply put, Todd Snider is one of the great geniuses of modern music. If the industry actually rewarded talent, he’d be more famous than Lady Gaga, Kati Perry, and all the top-40 crap factories put together. But then again, maybe it’s a good thing that only folks who actually seek out the best music instead of accepting what’s handed to them know about him, because that’s the kind of person who best appreciates his kind of work. In many ways, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is similar to Snider’s previous releases, but more concentrated. Whereas past albums often had a handful of political or social commentary songs mixed in with a spattering of personal reflections, story songs and just plain Snider insanity, this new album is much more distilled, as if he had that 99% thesis stuck in his head and was determined to get it out in as many different iterations as he could. It not only lives up to the high level set by Snider’s past endeavors, but in many ways surpasses it. Both musically and rhetorically it is his most coherent collection ever, and the themes of social consciousness he touches on are essential for understanding our place in the modern world. Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is destined to be one of the preeminent works in Todd Snider’s already storied catalogue, and it is undoubtedly an album not to be missed.


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mp3 cd vinyl


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