By Scott Recker
Veteran singer-songwriter Todd Snider — the frontman of Hardworking Americans — is someone whose music is unquestionably (one of the few times I can use that word while writing about music without falling victim to hyperbole) better in a live setting. He radiates charisma, is one of the few musicians who can tell 15-minute stories in-between songs without sounding like a self-serving, neurotic crazy person and, bottom line: he’s just endlessly entertaining. With the Hardworking Americans — a recently-formed project that only has a self-titled album out — his strengths aren’t nearly as magnified, which brings us to the question: does this live release really need to exist? The answer is probably not, which makes it both forgettable and unmoving — though it’s not necessarily bad. It’s just something you won’t remember in two weeks.
I’ve seen Todd Snider live more times than any other musician. His writing is witty and irrelevant, while also being poignant. He uses the only kind of humor that works in folk songs: the kind where you’re not trying to be funny, you just are. Kinda like John Prine or Hunter S. Thompson. In this rock ’n roll project, that’s been deleted from the script and there’s lost impact because of that. Instead, the space is filled with solos, which, for him, tips the scale in the wrong direction, mainly because originality was replaced by a cliché — even though it’s a fun, still relevant one. And don’t get me wrong: they’re not bad live. His bandmates are incredible. It registers better to a whiskey-soaked gritty bar than it does in your living room. I’ll go see them every time they come to Louisville. But a live record that basically just covers your debut album? To be fair, 2014 was a busy year for Snider: he formed this band, released an album with them, recorded this live show, starred in a documentary about this band and released an incredible book. The First Waltz was probably an afterthought, which is exactly what it has become.
DOWNLOAD: “Come from the Heart,” “Stomp and Holler”