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Refining the badass bit

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | JUNE 23, 2009 7:21 AM

Deer Tick’s newest album, Born on Flag Day, makes a bold statement that deserves a shot of whiskey.

***** out of *****

Deer Tick’s lead singer, John McCauley III, is a rare gem. Channeling legends from Bob Dylan to Buddy Holly to Johnny Cash, the man is a storyteller in the purest form of the word. Last year’s War Elephant showed that he had some talent, it just needed to be refined. Born On Flag Day, Deer Tick’s latest album, does just that. McCauley takes the raw, whiskey-drinkin’ music that gained him fans, and shows the world how to be a badass.

The album erupts with “Easy,” a song that makes a statement, giving a big “fuck you” to anyone who doesn’t like him. McCauley howls “I woke up this morning / I was feeling this should end.” He goes on to say that “son of a bitch crossed me once / but he won’t cross me again.” The album comes down a bit with the next song, “Little White Lies,” which seems to be about alienation. He sings “so please let me be lonely tonight / how many times I thought that you were right.” The song is driven by a bouncy, Dylan-esque style guitar picking, combining with heartbreaking words about coming to terms with a lost lover.

“Smith Hill” shows off McCauley’s lyrical abilities with a commentary on the complications of loneliness, including lines that allude to someone’s frustrating love with a prostitute. His voice hurts to listen to, causing the painful experiences of the man he’s talking about to hit home with the listener.

The theme of emptiness continues with the next tune, “Song About a Man,” the standout track on the album. McCauley tells the story of a man who threw away everything he ever wanted in life. His poetic, lyrical genius shines with heartbreaking lines such as “Take both your hands and put them round my neck / You’re a fool for wanting everything,” and it depicts how the man’s grandson will live with his mistakes. McCauley knows how to provoke emotions.

The album picks back up with “Houston, TX,” showing off more of a bouncy, Nashville side to the band. It’s a turning point for the album — a moment where McCauley shows he’s moving on from frustrations displayed in earlier tracks. The following song, “Straight Into a Storm,” channels some straight-up, Chuck Berry-style guitar riffs — showing off Deer Tick’s blues side and guitarist Andrew Tobiassen’s mad skills, along with Dennis Ryan’s punchy drumming.

“Friday XIII” keeps the energy up with a song clearly about sex, singing “come on baby won’t you feel all right? / it feels like forever since I’ve been warm at night,” and Christopher Ryan’s bass playing is showcased and drives the song.

“The Ghost” follows, and is one of Born on Flag Day’s weakest songs. Although the lyrics are clever — “you’re as lonely as a ghost on Halloween” — there isn’t much that happens in the song musically, and the track feels boring.

The album quickly recovers with “Hell on Earth,” a song about despair and death. McCauley illustrates the hopelessness of life, but counters it with the last song “Stung,” a tune about infatuation. He sings “I was stung by your velvet touch,” which mark the last words of the album, and leave the listener satisfied with storyteller’s journey.

Born On Flag Day is described by McCauley as “the perfect sophomore album,” and it is just that. The boys from Providence, R.I., need to take a shot of whiskey, because they succeeded.


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