[3 November 2011]
My first encounter with Deer Tick was through John McCauley’s unknown “supergroup” Middle Brother, a quintet in which he shares the spotlight with Dawes and Delta Spirit frontmen Taylor Goldsmith and Matt Vasquez. Though Middle Brother’s music less resembles Deer Tick’s hard alt-rockin’ and booze-drinkin’ country roots and more so applies Goldsmith’s odes to Neil Young that Dawes is so akin to, it was McCauley’s live performance that made me listen to Deer Tick. The Rhode Island-based singer has the partier persona of Slash in the ‘80s with the laidback southern mentality of Billy Ray Cyrus. Pounding PBRs all during the show, McCauley finished the encore by jumping into the audience (beer in hand) and screeching the final words to the Band’s “Down South in New Orleans,” wrecking his voice as he made his way out of the college crowd and backstage.
This is Deer Tick in a nutshell: boisterous, rowdy, and drunk, and this fourth album isn’t anything shy of those attributes. In fact, Divine Providence probably embraces that mentality the most of any record the band has cut in their eight years. On the opening track, “The Bump”, McCauley bellows the line “We’re full grown men / But we act like kids”, and he’s not kidding. These guys aren’t out to create art or change the music industry; they just want to get drunk and sing bar songs. And though that seems like kind of a waste, it’s not, because the fact is Deer Tick believe completely in what they’re doing, and this album shows that. Every song is their version of a party rock anthem, only they disregard beat machines for southern country-blues.
In contrast to their earlier albums War Elephant, Born on Flag Day, and Black Dirt Sessions, Deer Tick don’t experiment as much musically as they’ve show they’re able to, but what they do excel at this time is their ability to channel a theme. And though that theme is youthful rebellion and drunken antics, they don’t try to sell themselves as anything different than what one trip to a concert of theirs would prove of them. This time, they’re writing songs called “Let’s All Go to the Bar,” on which McCauley spouts off a number of obstacles that could interfere with their getting wasted but makes sure he’ll get there somehow. The band even pay homage to their boozehound idols the Rolling Stones on “Main Street”, mentioning “satisfaction” and “some girls” as an ode to the British titans of rock ‘n roll. And on “Something to Brag About,” McCauley screams, “Johnny’s got a bottle of wine/ Nobody’s gonna make it to work on time,” over a Beatles beat circa-1963, cementing the band’s stance on why they make music: to get fucked up.
Divine Providence is not an album of high art or music morality. It’s not going to change young, aspiring artists. In fact, it might even bore some longtime Deer Tick fans with its lack of musical exploration. But one of the biggest endeavors a band faces is trying to find what it is they stand for, and the Providence rockers have done that here. With this fourth record, they’ve soaked in their glutton for partying and not held back from showing it off to all of us. These are their roots. This is what they were born from, and unlike Kings of Leon, McCauley and Co. embrace that. Divine Providence isn’t about God being amongst us; it’s about being proud of where you came from. So grab a beer or a bottle of Jack (or both) and let Deer Tick entertain you for an hour.