Deer Tick – Black Dirt Sessions
Partisan Records: 2010
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It’s easy to forget – or sometimes hard to believe – that John McCauley III, lead singer-songwriter of the burgeoning rock outfit Deer Tick, is just 24 years old. To hear his rough hewn lyrics delivered straight-faced through a sandpaper voice, to see the band springing up on “Next Best Thing” lists, given main stages at monstrous festivals, headlining national tours, for all these heady successes, McCauley is still just 24.
Deer Tick’s youthful exuberance has led to incessant touring and resulted in tremendously entertaining live shows. McCauley bravely wore a flowered sun dress at the Coachella festival and the group routinely shotgun beers on stage. In short, the band is raucous, brash and everything else you want in a rock-and-roll outfit.
So it’s somewhat of a surprise that their latest offering The Black Dirt Sessions (released June 9, Partisan Records) is so … mature. Trading his axe for a piano, McCauley comes across weary, somber and serious. Song titles like “Goodbye, Dear Friend” and “Sad Sun” promise – and deliver – healthy helpings of heaviness. The result is disarming in doses; more often, simply disappointing. When another song (“When She Comes Home”) opens with “The whole world is wrong today,” you sort of just hope he’ll snap out of it and suggest a drink (or ice you).
This is not to say the album is completely devoid of keepers. “Twenty Miles” is a pretty, if repetitive, tune that hums along atop a bowed upright bass. “Blood Moon” is an evocative exercise in muddy Southern Rock, McCauley’s voice and story-telling sounding akin to a full moon on a dark night. The slow-building burn “Mange” smolders with their typical energy and displays improved musicality, all portending well for future efforts.
In the end, the songs from The Black Dirt Sessions will likely fall nicely into place in their diverse, Devil-may-care concerts. Perhaps it’s not bad there are growing pains, expanding into dramatic, darker songs; but with such mixed results, it unfortunately comes across as drawn out therapy session. And though listening to a friend’s problems is important, having fun makes for better stories.