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Deer Tick - The Black Dirt Sessions Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 8.5
Musicianship 8
Lyrics 8.75
Production 8.5
Creativity 7
Lasting Value 8
Reviewer Tilt 8.25
Final Verdict: 81%
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Deer Tick - The Black Dirt Sessions

Reviewed by: Jeremy Aaron (06/17/10)
Deer Tick - The Black Dirt Sessions
Record Label: Partisan
Release Date: June 8, 2010

For all the critical praise heaped on artists who push boundaries and seek continuous progression, there's a certain charm to those who are merely dependable. John McCauley, a.k.a. Deer Tick, pretty much epitomizes the reliable songwriter you can always count on to deliver. My introduction to his music came with the 2007 debut, War Elephant, an album that's thoroughly warm, welcoming and comfortable, without being anything remotely new. On last year's Born on Flag Day, we were treated to more of the same, with McCauley's gravelly voice (which is very comparable to The Tallest Man on Earth's Kristian Matsson), guitars that are mostly folky with some occasional rock crunch, and some organ touches here and there.

With the release of his third album (less than a year since his last), it wouldn't have been surprising if it was along the same lines, and predictably, The Black Dirt Sessions follows essentially the same formula, and it's largely successful. McCauley has an uncanny knack for carrying passion and emotional weight in his voice, which is something that comes pretty naturally to raw-throated folks, and since most of his songs are of the earnest and heartbreaking variety, he sells the pain well. It doesn't get more melancholy than "Choirs of Angels", on which he sings of his own death, "every lonely road is behind me," and not a second of it sounds disingenuous.

Of course, what makes Deer Tick's best songs most enjoyable is McCauley's way of crafting strong hooks, which is sort of what makes The Black Dirt Sessions a little bit of a disappointment, though only slightly so. On a song like "Long Time" from War Elephant, he conveyed his bittersweet message ("it's gonna be a long time, 'til I get what is mine") with an unforgettable melody, and on that album's "Spend the Night", he even allowed himself to have some raucous fun. The Black Dirt Sessions is overloaded with heart-rending ballads like "Goodbye, Dear Friend" and "The Sad Sun", which are affecting in their own right, but slow the album down to a crawl. Our thirst for any sort of merriment at all will have to be satisfied by the guitar jam session that brings "Mange" to a close.

Not content to be entirely predictable, McCauley unfurls a surprisingly capable falsetto on the easygoing "Hand in My Hand", proving that maybe there are still some tricks up his sleeve we haven't seen yet. However, taken as a whole, The Black Dirt Sessions is very much more of the same from Deer Tick. While sticking to his A-game has served him well so far, it's worth noting that the songs themselves just aren't quite as resonant this time out, resulting in an album that's merely very good instead of incredible. Without a doubt, though, McCauley is one of those artists for whom progression isn't really necessary, or probably even desirable. He's fine just the way he is.

RIYLDeer Tick's Born on Flag Day
The Tallest Man on Earth's Shallow Grave
Cotton Jones's Paranoid Cocoon

Track Listing1. Choir of Angels (2:54)
2. Twenty Miles (3:43)
3. Goodbye Dear Friend (4:58)
4. Piece by Piece and Frame by Frame (4:09)
5. The Sad Sun (4:34)
6. Mange (5:16)
7. When She Comes Home (3:53)
8. Hand in My Hand (4:31)
9. I Will Not Be Myself (3:22)
10. Blood Moon (4:40)
11. Christ Jesus (4:32)

Preview/Buy the album at Amazon MP3.
Displaying posts 1 - 10 of 10
07:44 PM on 06/17/10
Gregory Robson
Under Rug Swept
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As long as this dude keeps churning out music, I will keep on buying. No qualms from me at all. Absolutely love it. This just continues his consistent streak of solid discs. Mad props for reviewing it.
08:58 PM on 06/17/10
Jeremy Aaron
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As long as this dude keeps churning out music, I will keep on buying. No qualms from me at all. Absolutely love it. This just continues his consistent streak of solid discs. Mad props for reviewing it.

Thanks. I definitely really like it, but not quite as much as the first two.
08:03 AM on 06/18/10
Registered User
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love these guys!
11:13 AM on 06/18/10
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Thanks. I definitely really like it, but not quite as much as the first two.
I feel the same. good review!
08:50 PM on 06/18/10
Blake Solomon
Leave a one-way note.
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really don't understand why christ jesus is on this too. or why it closes out the album. but yeah, this is war elephant part 3 and i'm good with that at this point.
12:43 AM on 06/19/10
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coreypurvis's Avatar
Glad to see a Deer Tick album review. However, I felt like the review focused more on what the album was not rather than focusing on the good of the album.
07:41 PM on 06/21/10
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good band? maybe. if not, then so so. or really good...but maybe not for you. I love mondays after work
05:12 AM on 06/27/10
Be my lover, my lady river
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01:40 PM on 08/03/10
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Deadbolt23's Avatar
Yeah, this is quality.
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