Allow me to share a story that will hopefully establish enough Todd Snider cred that you’ll read the rest of this review. I was in high school and 99X out of Atlanta started playing this crazy acoustic song that made fun of grunge and all that was Seattle. I loved it and finally heard a DJ say it was Todd Snider. So I drove my 81 green Honda over to Blockbuster Music. At the time they had the listening stations set up where you could take a CD over and they would play it for you. I did this and after scanning every song I didn’t find the song I had heard on the radio. I asked the guy at the store about it and he didn’t know shit. I went home with nothing. This is before the internet so there was no real way to figure out where the song was.
Later, I heard a DJ say it was a hidden track on the album that I had listened to so I drove my 81 green Honda back to the Blockbuster Music and bought the CD from the same guy and told him where the song was. We both agreed that we hated it when they did that kind of shit.
Seeing Todd Snider live for the first time was one of the strangest shows I’ve ever seen. It was shortly after I bought that CD on the University of Georgia campus. They had the chairs lined up in some big room and a stage. It was free so we waited in line a while, went in and sat down. All the chairs filled up with asses and then some people sat on the floor up front. Then Todd Snider & The Nervous Wrecks came out. (it was the earliest version of the Wrecks, go look up who was it that) People clapped, they played a bunch of songs and between everyone people clapped. No one ever stood up. It was similar to a lecture with a guitar. There was a rock’n’roll band and people just stood there. Then they finished and they hadn’t played that one song that everyone knew. It was strange. Todd told a friend of mine that he didn’t have the right harmonica to play that song. I’m thinking he was bullshitting my friend.
Anyway, Todd was ‘from’ Memphis and I’m ‘from’ Georgia, but I was listening to him early on. So I’m good to write this review, right? Cred enough?
Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is somewhere around the tenth studio album for Todd Snider. That’s a shit ton of songs for one guy to write and without a doubt this one is Essential Listening. What stands out the most for me on this effort is the instrumentation and production, it’s probably his best as far as that is concerned. On several songs he’s joined by Amanda Shires pretty violin and pretty voice and Jason Isbell plays some guitar. Sonically it sounds like a cousin of Steve Earle’s Train A Coming.
If you’ve listened to any Todd Snider you know he’s a witty son of a bitch. Sometimes he’s too witty for his own good, or at least I think so. He’s always had songs that in their wittiness were easy for new fans to latch on to. “Ballad Of The Kingsmen,” “Iron Mike’s Main Man’s Last Request,” “Vinyl Records,” “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” etc. After two or three listens I really can’t stand those songs especially because Snider’s sideways worldview and wiliness to poke at things his own way is so good that I don’t need the gimmicks. What’s awesome about Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is that there are none of these songs. The only downside is that there aren’t any super amazing songs. (The bar for super amazing is set high for Snider because I think “Play A Train Song” and “Looking For A Job” are two of the best contemporary Singer/Songwriter songs out there.)
But there are three songs right here that you can listen to and make up your own mind. And there’s a great interview with Todd at Salon where he talks about being friends with Rahm Emmanuel and how he helped him write a song.