Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (Live)
Every generation needs their own folk singer. For those of us who were going through college in the Nineties, Todd Snider fits the bill. Todd Snider is an American Storyteller. Much like his idols, Arlo Guthrie, Jerry Jeff Walker and John Prine, Todd writes songs that run the gamut of entertainment. He tells funny stories, sad stories and stories that teach lessons. Ever since I heard his hidden track masterpiece “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues” on a late night radio show, I knew I had to hear more from him.
Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (Live) is his first live album, and this only serves to reinforce the fact that I must see him live the next time he is in Memphis (I missed him just last week because I didn’t know about the show in enough time to change plans). The album is packed with fifteen songs recorded throughout an eighteen-month nationwide tour, along with introductions and comments from Todd to the audience between songs and a song from his appearance on the “Bob and Tom Show.” The selections cover all of his five studio albums, but deliver that personality and warmth that a small club with an excited crowd makes so much more special. We go from the satirical look at the current state of affairs in this country in “Tension,” to the party anthem “Beer Run,” through a sad letter to a lost friend in “Waco Moon” and back to the satirical with a look at trouble in the trailer park known as “Doublewide Blues”.
While the songs are enjoyable, and different enough from the studio versions to make them unique, the true treat here is Todd’s introduction to each song, where he talks to the audience about how some of them originated. We learn that “Statistician’s Blues” came about when the young folk singer was late for his plane and didn’t have a chance to pick up his own magazine; he was reduced to reading the in-flight magazine, including a science article about brain utilization. We learn about the visit to a Memphis convenience store to get some coffee that resulted in “Side Show Blues.” And, most enjoyable for me, we learn the story of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, where Todd regales us with how he decided to become a folk singer in the first place, complete with characters like Trogg, Bonehead, Miss Vergie and Large Marge from Luckenbach. This is, of course, followed by “The Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern,” which means a whole lot more once you know the story behind it.
Is this the perfect Todd Snider live album? Almost. My only complaints here are the missing songs. I was really hoping to get to hear favorites like “Alright Guy” and “My Generation (Part 2),” but I guess I’ll just have to see him at a show and shout out a request or two. If you are a fan of Todd Snider, this one is a definite for your collection. If you like the sound of a storyteller with a guitar sharing pieces of himself with an enthusiastic crowd, you should definitely sample Near Truths and Hotel Rooms. This will definitely be on my year’s best list.