Our rationale goes something like this: Hey, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and USA Today have already lauded Todd Snider’s Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables, the songwriter’s none-too-subtle screed against the current trickledown angst consuming an American public being prepped for four years as Mitt Romney’s pool boy, so we took the opportunity to quiz the songwriter instead on his soon-to-be-released Jerry Jeff Walker tribute CD, Time As We Know It.
Snider plans to debut the JJW CD early next month at one of Walker’s regular gigs, the legendary Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas. Although uncaged after Fables, the Jerry Jeff bit was actually recorded first, with Don Was producing.
“Jerry Jeff we did over a year ago,” Snider explains, “and Stoner Fables was recorded right after Thanksgiving. I see the Stoner Fables one as my last one and the Jerry Jeff one as a present to myself for having made so many records.
“I just knew I wanted to do it with Don Was and always feel like I learn something from being around him. I had wanted him to do Stoner Fables at Eric [McConnell]’s house with me but he was producing Van Morrison. With both records though, I had the band sounds in mind. [Great American] Taxi for Jerry Jeff and the electric guitar/dead girl fiddler thing for the Stoner Fables, and with those blueprints I just let the good times roll.”
Taxi rambles and boogies through this thing like a Nashville house band, keeping Snider’s outlaw slacker take on Jerry Jeff ’s road ’n’ regret tunes on point. A few times through this disc and the weird (well, maybe not so weird, since they’ve done dozens if not hundreds of shows together) symbiosis between Taxi and Snider kind of sneaks up on you, and while you’ve been paying attention to Snider channeling Jerry Jeff, you suddenly realize how good the band is.
Snider would have none of that.
“Vince Herman is a paint-huffing mad man,” jokes Snider, “that’s just known. Sure, I might hit the old tube sock here or there at a fancy dinner party, but never in the workplace. … A recording studio is no place for formality or repetition or sanity. That’s just known.”
Herman finds himself a sudden substitute for Merle Haggard in Snider’s woozy rendering of “Continuous Saga of the Classic Bummer Or Is This My Free One Way Bus Ticket to Cleveland,” along with Eldorado Springs and Fat Tire pinch-hitting for Colorado Springs and Coors, respectively.
“Vince Herman is the clown prince and grand imagineer of all that is good and hippie bonafide; Fat Tire beer is the marijuana of beer; Nederland, Colo., is the electrical center of the universe; and barefoot Kenny is a prophet sent from a future time. That’s just known,” he says.
We also appreciated the inclusion of “Derby Day,” prayerfully delivered more or less straight up, a charmed jewel sparkling in the dust.
“Thank you … I love this song,” he says before veering off into weird confessional territory. “People sometimes just assume because of all the liberal hippie shit I do that I love everybody and everything and have no prejudices or anything but that’s just not true. I have a deep fear of gingers and I also can’t stand deaf people. You can’t tell ’em anything. That’s just known. Lovely song though. I do love the song.”
Mindful of the fact that Jerry Jeff was probably Snider’s first real idol, we did ask how one negotiates the Man in the Song. You confront him … you remove him and replace yourself … you try to be him. Something. How in the world do you approach Jerry Jeff Walker’s songs, a whole CD’s worth of them?
“This question says something that none of us ever discussed,” he says, “or nailed down in this way while it was happening, but I bet all would agree that what you just said was the biggest guiding part of how songs made it and didn’t. Which songs did I fit into became the question. Oddly enough, ‘[Mr] Bojangles,’ the one everybody else has recorded, was the hardest to put myself in, but I was a young roustabout and I have been to jail a few times, so, be it ever so broad, I do feel connected enough to that song to sing it.”
And seriously, no way “Mr Bojangles” could have sat this one out?
“We did go round and round with the debate of ‘Does the world need another version of “Bojangles”’ versus ‘Can a Jerry Jeff tribute not have “Bojangles?”’” Snider says.
The answers were yes, then no. That’s just known.
ON THE BILL: Todd Snider and the Burnouts play the Boulder Theater on Thursday, April 26. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $22.50. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.