As I moved my eyes rapidly down the laundry list of influences on Deer Tick’s Myspace page, There were two that jumped out at me; Johnny Cash and R. Kelly. I knew right then and there that this was my kind of song writer.
Well, sort of. I heard his song “Ashamed” and I was won over. In just over two minutes, John McCauley (aka Deer Tick), manages to take us from his inability to speak to a crush, their relationship, their demise and finally, his death. It’s just a man and his guitar telling us a story about the trials of a relationship – Johnny Cash anyone?
This is where Deer Tick, a Providence, RI native, aspires; in his ability to tell short stories in a very poignant way.
His inspirations ring true in his music with guys like Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, Costello while his approach to the mic is clearly inspired by modern day crooners like Kurt Cobain.
In both the opening track on War Elephant, “Ashamed”, as described above, and the second track “Art isn’t real (City of Sin)”, Deer Tick flexes his musical muscle. “Art isn’t Real”, a song up for interpretation, I believe to be about a person (perhaps a family member or friend) that treated him as if he’ll never amount to much. “I am the dotted line and you fill me in with what ever you like’” he sings. Later he claims that “In the bowels of history of time I’ve learned to stand back and never shine.” However, there is one line that sets off critics, “now you’re half way around the world, maybe I’ll see better days but I’m not so sure I will.” Wait, John, aren’t you twenty-one? You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you’re wondering if you’ll see better days ahead? But I don’t think he’s serious here. I think it’s just a sarcastic way of trying to make the antagonist in the story feel horrible or guilty because now it’s clear he’s got talent and is ready to move from the back to the front of the stage where he intends to shine.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “These Old Shoes”. The drum and bass truck along, creating the sense of travel as John sings about his journey on a plane, train and eventually with his old shoes to get to “You”. Who the “You” is, we never find out. Possibly the same girl in “Ashamed.” Every vehicle he takes to travel fails. The plane crashes, he’s kicked off the train for being a hobo, he bums a ride in a car that breaks down so he’s left only with his Old Shoes to get to “You”.
Where War Elephant fails is when he takes it overboard. There is so much material on this album that it ends up drowning his talent. To me, if this album was stripped down from it’s fourteen tracks to ten, it could have been a successful debut. Instead, we’re left a bit worn out. And it sounds as if the band is hanging on by a thread too as we reach the fourteenth and final song, “What Kind of Fool Am I”, where Deer Tick attempts to sing us a lullaby of sorts.
There is no question that Deer Tick and friends are going to be around, making music for some time but for now, they appear to be in growth phase.
He is currently on tour, supporting Castanets. They are about half way through the trip and will be in Boston today (11/8/07).
345 Somerville Ave., Somerville, MA
Thursday, November 8th
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