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VISITING ACT ‌ Beyond the Skylines

Todd Snider lives through the rough stuff and sings about it all


Back on Track: Todd Snider performs a 'Seated Show' at the 'Jammer on the IOP
  • Back on Track: Todd Snider performs a 'Seated Show' at the 'Jammer on the IOP
Todd Snider
Fri. March 16
10 p.m.
1008 Ocean Blvd.

Musically, Todd Snider's recent studio album East Nashville Skyline finds the Tennessee-based songwriter in fine form. He's shifted away from the plugged-in pop-rock sound of such early albums as 1994's Songs For The Daily Planet or 1998's Viva Satellite (the 17-track That Was Me: Todd Snider 1994-1998, compiled and released last summer, is an excellent introduction to his peppier material) and aimed toward a more rootsy affair. Mixing songs like the barrelhouse country of "Nashville" and the frenetic rock of "Incarcerated" with spare acoustic tunes like "Sunshine" and "Tillamook County Jail," the 2004 album — released on John Prine's indie Oh Boy Record label — works with a decidedly comfortable and spontaneous feel. This makes sense considering Snider said he doesn't worry about making albums that are technically perfect or polished.

"I feel like every year that I keep doing it, I get a little less precious or whatever," says Snider, 39. "This time, more than any time, I was just like, 'Look, just hear it. I'm going to play it, you guys play along and then we'll go eat.' I've always wanted to do that, and I guess just never had the nerve. I feel like this is looser, a lot more relaxed."

There is biting political commentary in "The Ballad Of The Kingsmen," "Good News Blues," and "Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White American Males," which actually doesn't slam that mindset so much as comment on the politically polarized populace of the United States.

"Iron Mike's Main Man's Last Request" (a reference to Mike Tyson) and "Incarcerated" (inspired by an episode of TV's Judge Judy) have pointed comments about fame and pop culture. Even a song that one might assume is autobiographical — "Alcohol And Pills" — looks at the evils of drugs through the premature demise of music legends such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and Janis Joplin.

Perhaps the most unnerving moment on East Nashville Skyline comes on the song ironically titled "Sunshine." Opening with the lines "Standing out on the edge of a building/Watching the traffic below/Drinking a beer and thinking of jumping/Not far from ready to go," the song takes a seemingly personal look at the idea of suicide. It's hardly uncharted lyrical territory for rock 'n' roll, but it's not the kind of lyric one would expect from Snider.

Since making his debut with 1994's Songs For The Daily Planet, the songwriter has been best known for his sharp sense of humor and a seemingly sunny disposition. While "Sunshine" does have a few one-liners that lighten the mood, it's a decidedly heavy song for Snider. Still, it fits comfortably on East Nashville Skyline because the album has its share of dark subject matter laced with humor that is particularly edgy — even by Snider's standards.

The new album's tone reflects what had been a decidedly difficult preceding year for Snider. First came the death of Snider's best friend, Skip Litz, a sound engineer and musician who gained legendary status around East Nashville, where Snider lives with his wife. Known alternately as the "Mayor of East Nashville" and "Clown Prince of East Nashville," photos of Litz now hang in bars throughout the area as a tribute to this local icon.

Snider had known Litz was terminally ill, but along with his wife and a family friend, he endured the shock of discovering Litz's body shortly after his death. Afterwards, Snider faced up to an addiction to drugs and pills that had grown more severe as he indulged in the same pills Litz was taking for pain relief.

"Like within a week after he died, I reserved one of those rehab places and I was going to come there at the end of a tour," he says. "And then I went to Florida, and I like had a drug overdose. I woke up at home in the [rehab] place that I was going to go to anyway. It was like 'Oh, we're doing this now.'"

He ended up relapsing and overdosing a second time before he did a second stint in rehab and gained control over his addictions. "For me it was never romantic," he says. "It was something that bothered me the whole time. And it really happens fast. It only takes about three days to get on a roll that will last three years."

East Nashville Skyline doesn't deal with either topic directly. Instead, Snider created a song cycle that seems more like a dark commentary on the foibles of today's world.

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