In a pandemic-less world, writing while on the road is absolutely essential to most of today’s best songwriters. Touring and the accompanying merch sales are the absolute lifeblood of the vast majority of musicians. Knoxville’s Brian Paddock wrote much of his previous album, Love is Weird, in the aftermath of a personal cancer battle and amidst other family tragedies. After regaining his own health and while touring behind that record, he penned the songs for his latest release, The Hero We Deserve, a more outward-looking record with some tall tales, as well as an answer to one of the greatest questions of our time.
Paddock addresses that songwriting effort right off the bat in “Your Favorite Record,” an artist’s lament on the struggle to write a stick-to-your-ribs song. Like many musicians, he struggles with more mundane social interaction – “Small talk is such a boring chore” – but pursues the perfect lyric. The song is an early 90s throwback, with a Mike Ness-ish guitar riff and an Uncle Tupelo reference – “Jeff sang his daydreams are disasters/Does he wake screaming the way I do?” While pursuing that life-changing hit, Paddock and his boys are still kicking around the dives and honky-tonks in “Hit Radio Song,” a grungy country tune about the perils of being a bar band – “My drink’s gettin’ empty and the band tab’s all gone/But the show goes on.”
Paddock proves to be a student of history. “Bullets and the Bible” takes on abolition, the dust-up between Kansas and Missouri, and the legend of John Brown. While “Bullets” has a feisty amount of twang, “October 12” is a much more somber affair. It relates the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson by way of a police officer’s bullet, and a man’s guilt in placing the call (based on seeing a door suspiciously ajar) which ultimately led to her death: “Someone left hers open, and a neighbor saw/Later, he told the paper, wished he’d never called the law.”
Indeed, Paddock has a flair for the Southern gothic tale and quarrels with the cops. “Snake Eyes,” with a grungy guitar lick at the top (Paddock handles most of the guitar work on the album himself), introduces us to a feud between two good ol’ boys and an overly aggressive deputy. At the risk of spoiling the fun, we’ll just say that SOMEONE ends up swinging from a tree. And in “Ybor City,” a country rocker about a part of Tampa where apparently all hope goes to die, we find a boy named Billy who walks into all manner of trouble – coke, robbery, and a frat boy named Kevin – but one who makes the kind of bad decisions that Paddock can identify with: “A lie you told or a cruel truth said…I’ve done worse for less.”
So, finally, that all-important question, now answered? It’s in the album’s title cut, and it has Paddock reminding us who is, without question, the best cinematic Batman. It’s not the one from Tim Burton’s world (“Nicholson was good, but I thought Keaton was a joke”), nor the next two in line (“Kilmer and Clooney were pretty lame”), and Affleck and Pattinson barely merit a scornful mention. With an insistence that borders on punk rock, Paddock reminds us that “Christian Bale, Christian Bale/All you other Batmans can go to Hell.” In a world where virtually nothing is certain anymore, it’s pure fun to hear someone delve so passionately into an otherwise trivial argument. Especially when he has the unassailable right answer.
The Hero We Deserve was produced by Paddock, John Tod Baker and Gurnee Barrett IV, recorded and mixed by Baker and Gray Corner and mastered by Matt Honkonen. Additional musicians include Baker (bass, guitars, drums, mouth harp, mellotron and background vocals), Barrett (drums and percussion), Evie Andrus (fiddle), Matthew “Diver” Edwards (pedal steel), Joey Jaccard (keys), Josh Smith (kazoo and slide whistle), Aubrey Mullins (background vocals) and Corner (drums).
Check out https://www.brianpaddockmusic.com/ for music and, hopefully, some eventual tour dates.