by Ken Jobe (@booksofjobe)
It’s not uncommon, when hearing terms like “a handful of covers” and “alternate versions of previously released tracks” in the description of a band’s new release, to dismiss said release as one of two things: a desperate cash grab or filler to fulfill a contractual obligation. Luckily, in the case of Deer Tick’s new compilation album, Mayonnaise, out February 1st, neither appear to be the case.
Continuing the condiment-themed motif from their last two albums, the simultaneously released Volume 1 and Volume 2 (whose covers were slight variations on a pair of ketchup and mustard bottles), Mayonnaise is equal parts covers, alternate versions of tracks from Volume 1, and new songs. What is perhaps most surprising about the album is how successful it is in all three areas, creating a listening experience that is both eclectic and still uniquely Deer Tick.
Opener and new track Bluesboy is not the most rollicking new tune on the album—that honor goes to Hey! Yeah!—but it is the heaviest, if indeed “heavy” can be used to describe a band steeped in folk, blues, and americana. Thudding bass and drums interspersed with single-note lines from guitarist Ian O’neil form a dense foundation for John McCauley’s light rasp, combining for a surprisingly balanced sound.
All of the new tracks are strong, which should be encouraging to fans waiting for a new, proper LP from the Rhode Island quartet. Jazzy instrumental Memphis Chair and the slight country tinge on Old Lady are solid, however the standout among the new songs is the melancholy ballad Strange, Awful Feeling. When McCauley sings, It’s known I’ve walked this road before/And rapped upon the devil’s door/To see if he’d let an old friend in again, it’s not hard to imagine one of his past demons (he’s famously settled down, now clean of all but alcohol) taunting—and haunting—him.
The covers selected for Mayonnaise were tried and true crowd pleasers from the last tour, so it comes as no surprise that they are uniformly strong, with all but perhaps one as good as the original, if not better. The best cover (and one of the best songs on the album overall) is an absolute blistering version of The Pogues’ White City that crackles with energy, letting the band’s punk roots show through.
The alternate versions of previously released tracks are all solid, if not exactly noteworthy—there are slight changes here and there, but the songs are neither better nor worse off for them, with one notable exception.
Closing out the album is Cocktail, a good, if slightly bland, deep cut from Volume 1. In this alternate version, the guys recruit preeminent Nashville pedal steel guitarist Spencer Cullum, Jr. to spice things up and that he does, turning a rather ordinary song into something exponentially better. It’s also ironic for a band that has always denied their country influence by bragging that they “sing without a twang” to embrace the addition of an instrument that is so resolutely country.
And yet that is Deer Tick in a nutshell: a jazzy, folksy, rootsy, part-time Nirvana tribute band who do whatever they want, and luckily for us, do it all very well.
8/11 Ringing Ears