Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deer Tick Finds Divine Providence

It's almost difficult to imagine what fans who discovered Deer Tick with the release of War Elephant (2007) and The Black Dirt Sessions (2010) might be thinking today. Divine Providence isn't either of those two albums.

For anyone who knows, it does pick up some semblance of what they sound like live. John McCauley and company know how to stir the room and cause a ruckus. And yet, as much as Divine Providence aims to create the same caliber of live anyone can catch in their shows, it really and truly doesn't.

There is no such thing as a live album sound with polish or gloss. That doesn't mean Divine Providence is a miss as much as it plays like a temporary stop on the way to something better. And fortunately, a few songs save the entire album from drifting into oblivion, the first real misstep since McCauley started.

Divine Providence by Deer Tick still works, but sometimes works too hard. 

The Bump has a classic live Deer Tick sound, even if it conjures up some memories of The Replacements singing Treatment Bound. It's not the same song, but does serve as inspiration. As an opener, it sets the tone of the album with McCauley frequently singing opposite a gang chorus.

The gang joining in is exactly what happens during live performances, both with band members and any crowd that gathers around the stage. And yet, it doesn't play live as much as the gang shouts compete with McCauley against the backdrop of a loud, gritty, but not so raw sound.

The difference becomes especially clear on Main Street, one of the strongest tracks on the album. In this case, McCauley serves up the rawness that put Deer Tick on the map. It sounds great as a studio cut, and uncharacteristically tamer live on stage, like it did at the Wellfleet Beachcomber in Cope Cod.

No surprise for anyone who has seen them live, McCauley shares singing duties with guitarist Ian O'Neil and drummer Dennis Ryan from time to time. O'Neil has a decent voice as does Ryan, but it creates a very different album sound for Deer Tick, one not nearly as exciting or engaging as it sounds on stage.

Walkin Out The Door and Now It's Your Turn are examples. I can't say the same about Clowning Around. Ryan nails one of the few breakaways from the bustouts, delivering one of the best songs on the album. Along with the latter, Main Street, Electic, Miss K, The Bump, and Funny World are all worth the download.

Divine Providence also delivers Mr. Cigarette, an album bonus track cover of Paul Westerberg's. Deer Tick puts plenty of Southern tinged sound into the moralistic ballad. It's fun, but not necessarily a compelling case to buy the album (although it is buried on the CD). The theme has weighed on McCauley's mind for years. Between shredding his vocal cords on stage and sometimes chain smoking, one sometimes wonders if sharing vocals isn't part necessity.

Divine Providence adds to the arsenal as a standby. 

There are plenty of great tracks on Divine Providence, a pun that anyone from Rhode Island can appreciate (like my wife). But it can also be considered a rest stop, given that many of the songs have been played as part of their performances for almost two years.

Some might even be B-sides to what they skipped for The Black Dirt Sessions. Not to mention, McCauley also lent considerable material to Middle Brother, the team-up with Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Matthew Vasquez (Delta Spirit). Some of the Middle Brother songs could have easily been Deer Tick material.

Although not mentioned earlier in the review, Rob Crowell (who originally joined to lend keys, sax, and vocals on the road) and Chris Ryan (bassist) deserve props. Chris Ryan especially so, given how approachable his is and his permanence with the band.

Divine Providence By Deer Tick Fills In At 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Divine Providence is worth sharing, and has picked up steam as one of the better alternative offerings in October. That makes sense. Fans already know some of these songs, but they never had the chance to take them home. Back to back with their other albums, many tracks fit right in for these Ocean State rockers.

Divine Providence by Deer Tick can be downloaded from iTunes. You can also pick up Divine Providence from Barnes & Noble, which also carries a vinyl edition. Amazon also carries the album.
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