12:28pm

Thu October 27, 2011
Music Reviews

Deer Tick: Finding 'Divine Providence' Along The Way

Originally published on Fri October 28, 2011 8:51 am

The title of Deer Tick's new album, Divine Providence, is a pun: The band hails from the capital of Rhode Island. But the other side of the pun is sarcastic. There's little on the album concerning divine providence or care. Nor is the band provident — frugal or prudent — about its talent and music. Group frontman John McCauley continues to sing as though the primary idea is to shred his vocal cords. And on this album, the idea is to convey something of the band's live performances, a headlong mixture of loud guitars and cover songs, plus originals that remind you of songs it might cover.

Deer Tick channels its inner Ramones in "Let's All Go to the Bar." The music on Divine Providence is pickled in alcohol; songs that don't contain references to drinking sound as though they were recorded under its influence, if not both combined. But it's not alcoholic music; that is, made without control or an awareness of what's at stake in committing to this pose. The booze fuels both frantic moments and more contemplative ones. This is the first Deer Tick album on which other members of the band besides McCauley regularly come front and center to sing. Drummer Dennis Ryan does a fine job in "Clowning Around," a song about a guy who knows his jaunty exterior isn't fooling anyone close to him about the melancholy he's feeling or the devils that haunt him.

The prettiness of "Clowning Around" is an exception on this album, however. Most of the time, Deer Tick is happy to summon up the influences of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Replacements. (A bonus track buried a full half-hour after the disc supposedly ends is "Mr. Cigarette," written by The Replacements' Paul Westerberg.) Then there's Deer Tick's Phil Spector-meets-Rod Stewart mash-up, a fine mid-tempo rocker called "Main Street."

Still in his 20s, McCauley has been influenced by some good stuff — in concert, he's been known to have Deer Tick cover music by Hank Williams, John Prine and Michael Hurley. The group has occasionally done entire sets devoted to renditions of Nirvana songs, advertising these performances under the band name Deervana. You can listen to Divine Providence and dismiss it as a juvenile party record. After all, "The Bump" features the shouted chorus, "We're full grown men but we act like kids." True enough, as far as it goes. But as Deer Tick has proved in the past, and probably will elaborate further in the future, this is also a band, attuned to using its music to work out various kinds of pain — the pains you can't just numb with a lot of whiskey and some slashing guitar chords.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, host: Deer Tick has just released its fourth album, called "Divine Providence." It's the second album this year from lead singer John McCauley, who put out "Middle Brother," a collaboration with other musicians that rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed this past March. Ken says the new Deer Tick album takes this Providence, Rhode Island band into a more raw sounding direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BUMP")

DEER TICK: (Singing) I got a lust for life and a dangerous mind. In my trail of dust who knows what you'll find. I can take a tree and tear it from its roots. If you see me I suggest you move. We're full-grown men but we act like kids. We'll face the music next time we roll in. Give me a spark...

KEN TUCKER: The title of Deer Tick's new album, "Divine Providence," is a pun. The band hails from the capital of Rhode Island. But the other side of the pun is sarcastic. There's little concerning divine providence or care. Neither is the band provident - frugal or prudent - about its talent and music. Group front man John McCauley continues to sing as though the primary idea is to shred his vocal cords. And on this album the goal is to convey something of the band's live performances, a headlong mixture of loud guitars and cover songs, plus originals that remind you of songs they might cover.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S ALL GO TO THE BAR")

TICK: (Singing) I don't care if it's late. Let's all go to the bar. And I don't care if there's a hurricane. Let's all go to the bar. And I don't care about what they say. Let's all go to the bar. Give me, give me, give me (unintelligible). Let's all go to the bar. Now we're going to sing that song. Let's all go to the bar. (Unintelligible). Let's all go to the bar.

TUCKER: That's Deer Tick channeling their inner Ramones on, you got it, "Let's All Go to the Bar." The music on "Divine Providence" is pickled in alcohol. Songs that don't contain references to drinking sound as though they were recorded under its influence, if not both combined. But it's not alcoholic music - that is, made without control or an awareness of what's at stake in committing to this pose. The booze fuels both frantic moments and more contemplative ones. This is the first Deer Tick album on which other members of the band besides McCauley regularly come front and center to sing. Bass player Chris Ryan does a fine job on "Clownin' Around," a song about a guy who knows his jaunty exterior isn't fooling anyone close to him about the melancholy he's feeling, the devils he's haunted by.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOWNIN' AROUND")

TICK: (Singing) Though I walk down a crooked path, that don't mean it wasn't cursed. My feeble heart was filled with wrath, my poison mind with thoughts perverse. And the devil is living in my basement. I'm trying hard to hide him from my wife, and I know some day I'm going to have to face him, but for now I keep my secrets with the night.

TUCKER: The prettiness of "Clownin' Around" is an exception on this album, however. Most of the time, Deer Tick is happy to summon up the influences of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Replacements. A bonus track buried a full half-hour after the disc supposedly ends is "Mr. Cigarette," written for the band by The Replacements' Paul Westerberg. Then there's their Phil Spector-meets-Rod Stewart mash-up, a fine mid-tempo rocker called "Main Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAIN STREET")

TICK: (Singing) I can't sleep. I can't close my eyes. Blink for a second and the whole world pass you by. Yeah, I guess I'm (unintelligible) I can't eat. I can't use my mouth. Miss one day and the whole world casts you out. Yeah, I guess I tried (unintelligible)...

TUCKER: Still in his 20s, McCauley has been influenced by some good stuff - in concert, he's been known to have Deer Tick cover music by Hank Williams, John Prine and Michael Hurley. The group has occasionally done entire sets devoted to renditions of Nirvana songs, advertising these performances under the band name Deervana. You can listen to this album "Divine Providence" and dismiss it as a juvenile party record. After all, the song that began this review, "The Bump," features the shouted chorus we're full grown men but we act like kids. True enough, as far as it goes. But as Deer Tick has proved in the past, and probably will elaborate further in the future, this is also a band attuned to using its music to work through various kinds of pain - the pains you can't just numb with a lot of whiskey and some slashing guitar chords.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Deer Tick's new album, "Divine Providence." You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org. And you can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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