My Band Could Beat Up Your Band
Willie Nelson, The Hold Steady, The Grates and Nickel Creek
This time, an additional twist arrives by way of the fact that Songbird consists of mostly covers, with only one new composition apiece from Nelson and Adams. It’s an ambitious song selection, though, ranging from the Grateful Dead’s “Stella Blue” to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” to Gram Parson’s “$1,000 Wedding.” Each is drenched in enough country twang to keep Nelson’s fans happy, but Adams’ inspired arrangements knock the dust off any potential heard-it-all-before monotony.
The pairing of young musicians with seasoned ones can only be a good thing, but in this case, the chemistry between Nelson and Adams feels more like a stroke of genius. Nelson’s career is in a position to benefit from the energy of youth, while overachiever Adams’ can always stand another outlet for his excess creative energy.
The Hold Steady
The album plays like a rock opera, its progression moody but logical. “Stuck between Stations” shimmers open with an anticipatory sense of festivity, evoking a young night that’s full of mystery. Then it follows a cast of characters through raging nights, drug problems, love, frustration, etc. Smart one-liners abound, which are perfectly imbedded in the vertiginous melodies, accented by strong guitar hooks.
The band’s from Brooklyn, but they handily pull off the same Southern swagger of garage rock darlings Drive-by Truckers. It’s hard-drinking, hard-drugging music, but with a cerebral, buoyant mood. There are tender moments like on “First Night,” when singer Craig Finn delivers an arresting recollection of a love turned bitter. There is a comical ode to girls who depend on their boyfriends for a sense of identity (“You Can Make Him Like You”). There’s a tribute to booze (“Citrus”), which was probably penned by a shaky hand. There’s even an anthemic song about prom. It’s a triumphant soundtrack to the life you didn’t want your parents to know about.
We don’t know what’s going on down under, because things sound like they’re getting crazy. If you saw The Red Paintings at the Bijou, you either woke up with a headache or spent the night bouncing off the walls. Either way, you probably asked yourself where these Aussies get their energy. It definitely ain’t coming from a vegemite sandwich.