Published Jan 21, 2014For 20 years now, Todd Snider has been one of America's most consistently entertaining singer-songwriters. A wise, funny, and endlessly endearing performer, Snider's playful, off-the-cuff affect and thick-tongued vocals mask a darkly aware sensibility. While his fans enjoy his drawling vocals and the homespun storytelling of songs like "Beer Run," they cheer for his 'aw shucks' anthems like "Alright Guy" and they drown in his tears on poignant tracks like "Rose City," Snider has always been at his very best when setting his sights on the messy, inconsistent and wildly unequal distribution of fortune in neoliberal America. He was never better at this than on 2012's Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables, which (with apologies to Bruce Springsteen) was the clearest examination of the effects of the Great Recession on the middle-cum-working class you'll ever hear.
In some ways a companion piece to that shambolic masterpiece, Hard Working Americans again finds Snider singing about the poor, the forgotten, the nebulous place we used to call "the Other America," but this time the songs are all covers. Backed by a kind of jam-band supergroup composed of Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), Neal Casal (the Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi), and Duane Trucks (King Lincoln), and featuring John Popper (Blues Traveler), Hard Working Americans is much more exciting, musically speaking, than anything he's ever done. Casal's guitar work, in particular, is frequently thrilling, and Trucks is a sturdy, inventive drummer, perfectly suited to this country-rock milieu.
Highlights abound, from a rambling take on the Bottle Rockets' "Welfare Music" to a gorgeous cover of Colin Linden and Kevin Gordon's "Down To The Well" to an irresistible wail through Hayes Carll's "Stomp and Holler" to a version of Randy Newman's "Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)," the latter of which sounds so immediate it might've been recorded in some modern-day hobo jungle. (Melvin/Thirty Tigers)