Album reviews: Todd Snider's 'The Excitement Plan' and Darryl Worley's 'Sounds Like Life'
New releases from alt-country singer-songwriter Todd Snider and country singer Darryl Worley provide a stellar case study in the difference between those who look at music as an avenue for creative expression and those who look for hits.
Snider, 42, is an eminently gifted Oregon-born, Nashville-based writer who wields a well-developed sense of humor akin to John Prine and Tom Waits. He sketches colorful characters and situations, part fact, part fiction, in the tradition of narrative folk blues, his songs generally coming down more on the side of Prine's hapless Everyman than Waits' down-and-out barflies.
"America's Favorite Pastime" is a hoot of a true story about Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis' fabled 1970 no-hitter, which he pitched after he'd dropped LSD. "You don't necessarily have to pay the fiddler to dance," he sings in "Slim Chance," an upbeat celebration of the kind of person who slips through life on the grace of good fortune. He wrote "Don't Tempt Me" with Loretta Lynn, who adds a sprightly and sassy duet vocal to their bouncy barrelhouse warning about maintaining fidelity.
It's a lively, beautifully individualized collection of observations about the perplexing journey that is life on Earth.
The title of Worley's album, on the other hand, unintentionally provides a revealing clue about this 44-year-old Tennessean's approach, "like" being one of those habitually misused words that means "similar to, but not." There's little on his latest collection that rings true of real lives actually being lived, but much that points out what's wrong about contemporary commercial country music.
The first single, "Sounds Like Life to Me" aspires toward a grab-your-own-bootstraps message about bucking up in trying times, but for the sake of lyric expediency lumps the anguish of placing a parent in a nursing home alongside such nuisances as a broken-down car.
"Tequila on Ice" sets up an alcohol-fueled romantic fantasy with neither the humor nor underlying sense of real-world consequence that Snider brings to Robert Earl Keen's "Corpus Christi Bay," about a pair of brothers who pursue the Jimmy Buffett/Kenny Chesney lifestyle to its sad but credible real-world conclusion.
Guess which one's likely to be the hit?
-- Randy Lewis
"Sounds Like Life"
"The Excitement Plan"
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