partially seated show
Todd Snider is on the happy back end of happy hour at a favorite East Nashville bar, talking about his new album Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables. “This record doesn’t come from good times,” Snider says. “I wanted to sound the way I feel, which sometimes means sounding like a broken soul.”
On the 10 new songs, Snider doesn’t talk around the vulnerable part, or the angry part, or the part about how everything we’re taught about goodness and righteousness and capitalism, about God and family values winds up exploding into violence and chaos, wonder and longing. He might carry the mantle of “storyteller” – it’s what he titled his live record, after all – but Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is anything but a nice, folk/Americana troubadour album.
It’s not a nice anything.
It is jagged, leering, lurching and howling, and filled with unhappy endings both experienced and intimated: “It ain’t the despair that gets you, it’s the hope,” he sings in the album-closer, “Big Finish.” That Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is also roaringly funny is tribute to Snider’s unique sensibilities, and to his standing as what Rolling Stone magazine calls “America’s sharpest musical storyteller.” Anguish without laughter is boring, like intensive care without morphine, and Snider has never been within 100 miles of boring. Also, he didn’t earn the attention, friendship and fandom of American musical giants like Kris Kristofferson and John Prine by writing mopey protest songs.
It’s not easy to fuse a connection between the heartstrings and the hipbone, to bridge the emotional intensity of a singer-songwriter and the effortless swagger of a born rocker. But that’s exactly what California-bred, Austin-based Amy Cook has been doing for more than a decade – winning over fans with tunes that not only connect, but also attach themselves to the very heart of pleasure.
On Summer Skin (Roothouse Records/Thirty Tigers), her latest album, Cook explores both sides of that personality, with the assistance of a remarkable group of musicians: Bassist Me’Shell N’Degeocello, guitarists David Garza and Chris Bruce, and Jonathan Wilson on drums, as well as guests Ben Kweller, Patty Griffin and Robert Plant (who adds instantly recognizable harmonies to the gently atmospheric “It’s Gonna Rain”).