Todd Snider’s Songs — and Stories — Shine on — Live: Return of the Storyteller
Review by Mark Pelavin[i]
Maybe you have a friend who is deep into scotch, or whisky, or craft beer. I bet they love to talk up specific bottles, but that they do so in a way that makes clear that the drink is, in fact, not for you. “This one is great; it’s so peaty even I can barely drink it,” or “I love this one; it’s the bitterest IPA I’ve every had.” The message, of course, is that the drink in question is of such a high quality that only true aficionados will like it.
That brings me to Todd Snider’s new release, Live: Return of the Storyteller. I really like Live.
Live is about two-thirds songs and one-third winding, serendipitous, fully entertaining stories about Snider’s life and travels. Just as an especially hoppy IPA is not a great match for a novice beer drinker, Live may not connect with some folks, but it will thrill Snider fans. I am proud to count myself in that camp. I had a wonderful time listening to Live, tapping my foot to the music, singing the terrific lyrics along with him, and chuckling at the stories.
Snider can be a magnetic performer. His stage persona – that of a happy hippy, a stoner showman – works for him. His on-stage goofiness can disguise the strength of his songwriting. This format — Live is just Snider and his trademark Epiphone J-200 guitar — puts both his stage manner and his lyrics on full display. It makes a strong case for Snider is one of the most consistent, and underrated, songwriters of his generation. His voice is strong throughout Live, conveying the passion, warmth, and, less often, bitterness, of his songs.
Live was recorded between August and December of 2021, during Snider’s first performances after venues opened back up last year. Snider notes that COVID forced his first-ever break from touring; after having been on the road for some 30 years, he calls these shows the “second tour” of his career.
Live features stories and songs about friends Snider has lost in recent years, including John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Neal Casal. But the album is anything but dark or depressing. Snider offers wonderful reminiscences of each of his absent colleagues, capturing them with such a few perfect phrases.
The 16 songs on Live span Snider’s long career, from “Alright Guy” (1994) to his John Prine tribute, “Handsome John” (2021). “Handsome John” shows off Snider’s lyrical style; he’s usually plain-spoken not flashy, short and sharp: “I didn’t know him as well as I tell everyone I did/Hell he was nearly fifty and I was a kid.” He can also be more, well, discursive: “They said maybe you’ve been chasing a song too long/It’s turned into a song about a song you’re working on/I mean it’s gone man/Come on/Let it go” (from “Chasing a Song”).
Live was produced by long-time Snider collaborator Brian Kincaid, Snider’s COVID engineer Felix Hunt, and Todd Divel. Kincaid worked with Snider on his weekly – and wonderful — Sunday morning live streams during the worst of COVID.
Live: Return of the Storyteller will be released on September 23, 2022. You can preorder it now on Snider’s website. Snider is in the middle of an ambitious tour; odds are pretty good he’ll be coming soon to a theater near you.
Enjoy our interviews with Todd Snider here: Interview: Todd Snider on Returning to the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, Cash Cabin Vol. III, and Life Imitating Jerry Jeff Walker and here: Key to the Highway: Todd Snider