Slick guitar, saxophone, electric organ, and Bocephus ride through singer-songwriter Todd Snider’s new fast-paced album Eastside Bulldog. Marketed as an outlet for his rock alter ego Elmo Buzz, it’s Snider’s first new album since 2012’s Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables, and completely constructs a style for the character with Snider’s snappy arrangements and storytelling lyrics. Buzz is a rowdy musician, taking cues from a love of Hank Williams, Jr., and perturbed by any limits on his antics. In the liner notes, Snider comments that on the differences between a gig and a concert, the latter encompassing a rigid contract for one show in a 75-mile radius in a six-month period, and the former as a handshake agreement for one night and no commitment. His description perfectly describes Eastside Bulldog and Elmer Buzz: both are meant to be enjoyed with frequency, friends, and copious revelry.
How fast Eastside Bulldog zooms by you on play indicates the nature of Snider’s venture into this Buzz character and rockabilly ‘50s vibes. At under 26 minutes, you can replay Eastside Bulldog almost as quickly, a feature absolutely replicating the quick and in the moment recording by Snider and co-producer Eric McConnell. If Snider’s last album, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables, was a bitter jaded “mess” documenting the nature of politics, economics, and society four years ago, then Eastside Bulldog is an excited celebration of everything else. Snider organizes his songwriting around his love for East Nashville, promoting its energy and the fun in partying and performing in that neighborhood.
Eastside Bulldog takes you through a night out in East Nashville. Starting off by destroying a “Pretty Boy” booked months in advance for a concert, through defending local musicians (“37206” and “Check It Out”), taking part in the latest dance (“The Funky Tomato”), cruising (“Eastside Bulldog”), confronting detractors (“Are You With Me”), fighting challengers (“Enough Is Enough” and “Ways and Means”), and ending the night by planning the next (“Come on Up”). The lyrics in “Hey Pretty Boy” set the party up: “Nobody cares about the music business…” and highlight its intent “They’re always singing about chicks and cars and partying hard….” “Come on Up” closes it down with a call to start it back up, too: “Hey Fellas / You know how we have the best bars in the world right here in East Nashville / And how often times I am libel to show up in the early afternoon / Why by four twenty sometimes I get to feeling so good I might even take / Out a guitar and play everybody a song or something… Come on up and see me sometime / You won’t regret it, or forget it…”
Numerous call-outs to Bocephus initially distract you from the East Nashville bragging all over this album, but fit the alter ego character of Elmo Buzz that otherwise seems inconsistent and irrelevant to Snider’s songwriting and performing (he plays guitar on all ten tracks). Buzz and Snider are apparently not the same person (which they obviously are to anyone listening or uninterested in a musician creating such a character), but you’d be better off just listening to the fun Snider had playing these songs with the musicians backing him and forget about any alter ego creation. Dennis Taylor’s sax, Mark Horn’s drumming, and Jen Gunderman’s piano/keys/organ are standout elements in every song. The saxophone shines especially strong and counters Snider’s vocals deliberately, while the drums and organ consistently drive home the raucous spirit and attitude of Eastside Bulldog.
It’s a fun album that pounds more energy into each successive song and repeats well. The short length lends to repeating often, but doesn’t wear the songs down. The partying and daily antics of the music and East Nashville in Eastside Bulldog additionally take down the trend of bro-country pop sentimentality of the past few years. These are songs about partying, but without the glossed safety of mainstream radio or massive concert shows. Eastside Bulldog shows Todd Snider as edgy as past albums, but with a determination to defend what he loves, “…chicks and cars and partying hard…”, by his merits and for his own ends.