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3.5 Stars

It's the third album in for this band from Providence Rhode Island and things are getting serious. Their first two albums "War elephant" (Download "Ashamed") and the truly excellent "Born on a flag day" (Download "Houston TX") were raucous and tremendous fun where Deer Tick flexed their alt country blues to great affect. On this third album the band named with painful logic after a parasite from a deer, have an opportunity to set out there stall and to make that step change from cult to contender, from teen to adult. After listening to Black Dirt Sessions over the past days I am not certain they have achieved the desired objective although they make a fine attempt at it. Indeed if only you could cherry pick the best songs from all three albums thus far there is little doubt that you would have one of the great Americana albums of modern times with John J. McCauley III deemed to be one of its greatest exponents and with his raggedy haggard like voice once described as a borderline death-yowl rivalling some of the great country troubadours.

"Black Dirt Sessions" contains great songs and aimless songs, and that is its problem. For every simply stunning "20 Miles" easily one of the top five songs I have heard this year there is a bit of a plodder like "Goodbye Dear Friend" which must have sounded like a great idea in the studio but does not really engage. "Pensive" is the best description I can apply to this album. There is certainly nothing wrong with a darker and more gothic approach but the loss of some of the raw energy from the first two albums means that throughout shades of grey are hard to find. Certainly when this album clicks it does so with some with real style and gravitas. There are shadowy ballads on here which are second to none including the atmospheric dark blues of "Blood Moon", the rough hewn John Lennon like opener "Choir of Angels" and Stones style centre point of the album "Mange". Alternatively others like dowdy dirge "I will not be myself" or the closer "Christ Jesus" a barely different reprise of a song on their debut are just too overwrought and by this time McCauley's voice sounds like it needs a well deserved rest.

McCauley remains painfully young (24) and the guy literally sweats talent, but with Black Dirt Sessions perhaps he has tried to produce his "Tonight's the night" a little bit too early without the world weary experience to carry it off? Whatever the case while it is an audacious set of songs you feel that somewhere still in McCauley's mental universe exists "the album" which will one day blow us away. "The Black Dirt Sessions" is not quite it, but it lays down a trail that could eventually lead to greatness.
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on 27 November 2010
Good old Uncut magazine. Like recommendations from a friend with impeccable taste in music, film and literature they've turned me on to many a great band. I picked up The Black Dirt Sessions on the basis of an album of the month recommendation annointing them as the new Replacements, generally enough to perk up my interest in any band.

The 'Mats mix of romanticism and roughness is definitely in evidence here. Also, in fusing the barstool wisdom, classic rock chops and rustic vibe of Americana with the gothic croak and self loathing of grunge they've managed to mate my two favourite genres of the past 15 years, so this is an album almost tailor made for me. If I could offer my own comparison, I might say Jar of Flies meets Jacksonville City Nights.

Although this is undoubtedly an album etched in black, there's enough interplay of light and shade to keep things interesting. Goodbye, Dear Friend and Blood Moon offer stark piano, haunting guitar noise and ruminations on mortality. However, songs like When She Comes Home and Hand in My Hand set the darkness to a warmer bed of gently rocking, ensemble playing. In putting the Beggars Banquet-esque rockout Mange at the point where things risk becoming a little too one paced, the band also show themselves a great constructor of records. If I had one slight criticism, it would be that singer John McCauley probably needs a few more years of downing whiskey to grow into his Tom Waits meets Mark Lanegan growl, but he still sounds pretty good to me.

As with another reviewer here, it's probably my favourite album of the year, surpassing efforts by established favourites like The Hold Steady and The National. I shall certainly be picking up the bands previous efforts and keeping an eye out for what they're up to in the future.
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on 24 July 2010
Deer Tick are a band that have largely passed me by, which is strange because I pride myself on knowing all about the latest americana/alt country trends. Anyway, I'm reliably informed that their past two releases (2008's 'War Elephant' & 2009's 'Born On Flag Day') have gone some way to establishing the band as somewhat of a modern-day Replacements, full of ramshackle energy and hoarse emotion. With that in mind 'Black Dirt Seesions' comes across as their one-for-the-road-after-the-party's-over album. Sorry, better descriptions on a postcard please.

Lets get this over with from the start: this is not an entirely comfortable listen, at times the album enters realms of morose not evident since Ian Curtis was treading the floorboards. Tracks such as 'Goodbye, Dear Friend' and 'Christ Jesus' are like studies of voyeurism, John J. McCauley III seemingly inviting us to see his inner thoughts and torments. 'Christ Jesus' is of particular note, McCauley sings of his loss of faith over a plaintive piano lead and forboding cello accomplishment. The song is an extremely uncomfortable listen with McCauley delivering one final strained plea at it's finale:

'Christ Jesus, please don't leave us
Down on our hands and our knees
Or I'll never beleive
No, Christ Jesus, I'm drowning
And I struggle to breath
It's your face I don't see

it is a breathtaking note to end the album on, but is by no means the only highlight of this release. Track 2 'Twenty Miles' is a jaunty affair, very reminiscant of I.R.S era REM, which features a wonderful bass line and some very evocative vocal arrangements. 'Mange' is another highlight, it's progressive pace abrubtly erupts into a Exile-style flourish at it's finale and the gothic double-shot of 'I Will Not Be Myself' and 'Blood Moon' offers yet more delights.

This record is far from perfect, but much like The Replacements, the ramshackle style they inhabit give it a beauty all of its own. Whether the band have it in them to release a monster like 'Let It Be' (The Replacements 1984 masterpeice, not it's Beatles name sake), we'll just have to wait and see. But this a wonderful step towards that goal and hopefully their next release can promote them to the big league.
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on 3 July 2010
I disagree with some of the points made by the previous reviewer (Red on Black) - in particular I think Deer Tick's move away from country-folk to something darker (almost grungier) has definitely been a good one, and one I hope will widen his appeal considerably. As to whether McCauley really lacks the "experience" to carry off something like this - I don't know enough about his personal life to make that call, but aesthetically he certainly does carry it off. Sure there are one or two weaker tracks (I would probably point to the same one's as RoB here), but the best tracks on this album are among the best tracks McCauley has produced in his short recording career so far. Now I just hope that some day soon he will release an album of some of those stunning covers that are floating around the net (try to get hold of his version of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy...", or the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" for example). And if you want to hear him in a much lighter mood, try to hear "The Great Smoke Off" (which I think is on a bonus disk with the US release of this album).
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on 1 October 2010
Well, I'm no Deer Tick expert, but this has established itself as my favourite album of the year so far. A haunting, melodic, chilling, soothing, angst-ridden cry from the soul.
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on 18 October 2016
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on 18 September 2014
John McCauley's voice is simply amazing. Great songs, great listen.
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on 15 January 2015
Recently discovered this band at a Gas light gig, awesome.
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