Todd Snider – Crank It, We’re Doomed
Last week, a “new” song from the Beatles was released – a late-era John Lennon solo tune with contributions from his erstwhile bandmates (a rather creepy video for “Now and Then” was also cooked up, but the less we say about that, the better). Much more interesting – and artful – than this is the latest project from singer-songwriter Todd Snider. His long-mythologized album Crank It, We’re Doomed was scrapped and essentially sold off for parts over the course of the past 16 years. Songs were repurposed for other records, but the legend among the “Shitheads” (Snider’s most ardent fans) lived on until engineer Jim DeMain dug out a copy of the stereo masters. Now, 15 of the original tracks from one of Snider’s most productive (and most exploratory) periods are together as originally intended, giving those Shitheads an early holiday gift, as well as appearances from two country music legends.
Even though Snider originally scrapped Crank It for artistic reasons, he thought enough of the album to use pieces of it later on. This includes the first track, “From A Dying Rose,” a bluesy, organ-laced tune that appeared [in this original form, but under the title “Dividing the Estate (A Heart Attack)”] on Snider’s Peace Queer. Written with the late Kent Finlay, the song details the attempt to say a kind goodbye to a man who chose not to live his best life – “The preacher couldn’t tell us everything that he did/But he said every kind thing that he could.” Another retitled track from Peace Queer makes an appearance, as “Stuck on the Corner (Prelude to a Heart Attack)” shows up in garage-blues form under its original title, “Handleman’s Revenge.” Full of harmonica, salty guitar licks and barroom piano, the song is Snider’s version of workingman’s lament – “He stood up and made a speech about how/We would all have to work even harder now/I thought, ‘Harder now, harder at what?’” – with the narrator wishing he could revert back to the carefree days now enjoyed by his son – “He is as unimpressed by these plaques in my cubicle/As I am secretly impressed with his ability/To look at everything so so completely irresponsibly.”
Human avarice and indifference – and Snider’s disgust with it – also creep up in “Doll Face.” It’s a rugged take on a later-developed track – here, it’s primarily Snider on acoustic guitar and Will Kimbrough approximating pedal steel on his electric – and the stripped-down sound fits Snider’s look at the life of a tree – “Spent years on the mountain/Before they even built the town below” – and our own determination to prevent that tree from becoming a forest, even though nature will – eventually – outlast us: “You people seem to think the world was made for them/Might be true/But there’s a crack in every sidewalk/Where the grass breaks through.” Snider takes more literal stabs at tall tales in “America’s Favorite Pastime,” a (relatively) true recalling of Pittsburgh pitcher Dock Ellis’ legendary no-hitter thrown through an LSD haze, and “What Made You Do it,” a largely spoke-sung track that comments on the nature of gossip – “We don’t need a factory to feed this town/But if they ever closed down the rumor mill, this town collapse” – while Snider himself practically begs for the story behind the (again, real life) shooting involving Billy Joe Shaver.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Crank It, We’re Doomed is its nods to legends both gone and fading away. A well-timed release of Snider’s original cover of mentor Jimmy Buffett’s “West Nashville Ballroom Gown” features an acoustic/vocal duet between Snider and Kimbrough, eschewing the fuller-sounding later take that included Amanda Shires on fiddle and background vocals. Snider also includes a song written with Loretta Lynn; “Don’t Tempt Me” is an old-fashioned he said/she said which features the late legend on vocals. And the album wraps with what may end up being one of Kris Kristofferson’s last released verses. “Good Fortune” includes a characteristically great Todd Snider couplet – “Looking like Booker T. & the M.G.’s sound/There ain’t nothing that girl can’t do” – and riding a simple acoustic-and-percussion shuffle before Kristofferson takes over on verse four with his familiar late-period grizzled-ness – “You think there’s a kid in this entire town/Dreaming up growing up to be a bum.” “Good fortune” for all? Not in a Snider song. But for dedicated Shitheads, Crank It, We’re Doomed is a long-awaited treasure trove.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Slim Chance Is Still A Chance” – riffy and spiced up with a ragged background chorus, this revved-up version of the eventual stripped-down (and title-shortened) “Slim Chance” displays another taste of Snider’s cockeyed optimism – “I keep living in the lap of poverty/She makes me feel like I won some kind of lottery/The way she keeps looking over at me.”
Crank It, We’re Doomed was produced by Todd Snider and Eric McConnell, recorded and mixed by McConnell and mastered by Jim DeMain. All original songs written by Snider, with co-writes going to Kent Finlay, Loretta Lynn and Peter Cooper. Musicians on the album include Snider (guitars, lead vocals, McConnell (bass), Cooper (bass, backing vocals), Will Kimbrough (guitars, backing vocals), Molly Thomas (violin, backing vocals), Jimmy Wallace (piano, organ), Paul Griffith (drums), Loretta Lynn (lead and backing vocals on “Don’t Tempt Me”) and Kris Kristofferson (lead vocal on “Good Fortune”).
Go here to order Crank It, We’re Doomed (out November 11): https://toddsnidershop.com/
Check out tour dates here: https://toddsnider.net/tour-dates/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Interview: Todd Snider on Returning to the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, Cash Cabin Vol. III, and Life Imitating Jerry Jeff Walker