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Too Slim and the Taildraggers

Shiver

(Underworld; US: 19 Apr 2011; UK: 13 Jun 2011)

Seattle guitar slinger nails it on 16th release

Too Slim and the Taildraggers play a kind of swampy country-blues-rock hybrid that, at its best, synthesizes the peculiar energies and humor of those disparate types of music. More often than not, the band manages to conjure up the swinging melodies of country, the crunchy guitars of electric blues and the swagger of rock ‘n’ roll into a bouncy, toe-tapping gumbo served with a rich helping of pithy lyricism. This record’s good, folks.


“The Devil drinks his whiskey, and Jesus drinks his wine”, Tim “Too Slim” Langford growls on kickoff tune “Stoned Again”. “One is a sinner, the other is divine”. Appropriately for a record filled with darkly comic tunes about disappeared daddies, unemployed workers and ghost-seeing dogs, the line between the sacred and the profane gets blurred early and often. Not that this is a comedy album; it most certainly isn’t. But Langford and the band are more likely to convey emotion through wry humor than through hand-wringing sincerity.


None of this would matter if the songs were weak, but they’re not. “Stoned Again” soars along on waves of gritty slide guitar and funky bass playing, while “Daddies Bones” benefits from chirpy organ, spiky guitar accents and a compelling tale of retribution. Brass makes a not-entirely-welcome appearance in “Can’t Dress It Up” and “In Your Corner”, a pair of upbeat tunes that take different approaches to the idea of offering moral support. At this point you’re four songs into the album and you haven’t heard a dud yet. Better still, the gospel-inflected “Everybody’s Got Something” is an early highlight just over the horizon.


Langford’s voice is raw in the right way, betraying neither great power nor impressive range, but expressing a kind of suppressed yearning (along with several packs a day and a few shots to wash them down). Much of the time this yearning is swathed in layers of irony or cynicism, but at certain moments, such as on the wistful “Inside of Me”, a different emotional palette is called upon. Langford manages to pull off the sensitive-guy stuff, but just barely.


In general, the band has more fun—as does the listener—on uptempo tunes like “She Sees Ghosts” and “Shiver”, which allow snappy guitar solos and banging percussion to carry the listener along. “Shiver” is probably the best tune on the record, with its bulldozing guitar rhythms and crawling-through-the-mud vocal delivery. For a few moments, Langford almost channels Axl Rose, and you know something? It sounds great.


Missteps are few, although the Stevie Ray Vaughan-ish “As the Tears go By” is less than inspired, and is probably Langford’s weakest vocal performance. The lazy populism of “Workin’” is pretty lame too, and could almost be the theme song to a Tea Party rally. Blaming politicians for unemployment is just a little too easy, isn’t it?


Good or bad, there’s always a lot going on in these songs—occasional horns or organ backing up the lively drumming, bouncing bass and guitars—but nothing ever feels cramped or overproduced. Nor do they overstay their welcome: at four to five minutes, these tunes eschew any kind of lengthy jamming or exploratory noodling. The band is drumhead-tight and the mission is clear: get in, rock on, get out.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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