Deer Tick hail from Rhode Island, and were formed back in 2005, naming the band after the, well, deer tick, stuck in his scalp after a forest hike. They are famed for their ramshackle, drunken gigs, much like their heroes The Replacements. They are also known to do gigs entirely of Nirvana songs, calling themselves Deervana especially for those occasions. They are fronted by main singer-songwriter John McCauley, and also feature Ian O’Neil, Chris and Dennis Ryan and Rob Crowell. They have a diverse sound, ranging from country and folk, to flat out rock ‘n’ roll to grunge.
War Elephant (2007)
Key Track: Ashamed
Deer Tick’s debut is an amalgamation of their country and grunge influences and was my introduction in to the band. If Kurt Cobain lived in Nashville then Nirvana may have sounded like Deer Tick. McCauley wrote and composed all of the songs here, and there are some real beauties (Standing at the Threshold, Ashamed, Dirty Dishes). There are a few fillers as well (mostly the grungy numbers to be fair) but it’s an assured debut and a statement of intent by the band.
Born on Flag Day (2009)
Key Track: Houston, Tx
The bands second effort was more collaborative and encompasses more alt-country, with hints of Dylan (Son About a Man) and the Stones (Straight Into a Storm). There is a nice duet with Liz Isenberg and some witty songs such as Friday XIII. The album has everything, a nice mix of rockers and softer tracks, showcasing McCauley’s talents as a songwriter, musician and singer.
The Black Dirt Sessions (2010)
Key Track: Twenty Miles
Apparently Deer Tick were the most blogged about band in the world before this third album was released. I find that hard to believe, because at least one person I know would have heard of them, right? Maybe they are bigger in the States? This third album leaves a lot of the country stylings of the previous album and focuses more on the grunge aspects found on the first album. It starts off brightly with Choir of Angels and Twenty Miles before hitting extreme misery with the likes of Goodbye, Dear Friend. There are some dirge’s in there that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but songs like Mange are pretty damned good once you give them a few listens.
Divine Providence (2011)
Key Track: Main Street
Deer Tick’s fourth album was supposed to be a bit more representative of their impressive and ragged live shows. It wasn’t well received by most critics, but still had some highlights, especially for fans of The Replacements and bands like The Ramones. The frivolity of this album compared with the weighty issues of the previous album may well have had an impact on listeners, but those who prefer to party than wallow would have found some fun songs here (The Bump, Let’s All Go To The Bar, Funny Word, Something To Brag About).
Key Track: The Dream is in The Ditch
The latest album is McCauley singing about some of the family and drug troubles that have plagued him in recent years. His crack and alcohol habits, the breaking up from his fiance, the death of his uncle and finally the imprisonment of his father. The production values are the highest they have been on any Deer Tick album to date, and a large portion of the songs are piano rather than guitar based, including the song ‘In Our Time’, a duet with Vanessa Carlton, whom McCauley recently married, in a ceremony officiated by, bizarrely, Stevie Nicks.
Some other key listens:
Middle Brother (2011)
Key Track: Middle Brother
McCauley’s first foray outside of his usual band, an alt-country super group featuring Matthew Vasquez from Delta Spirit and Matt Goldsmith of Dawes. The album features the signature sounds of all three bands so has some nice variety amongst the dozen songs. It’s a mix of all three bands influences and sounds, meshed together. So there is some nice vocal work, some well written songs with hints of country and blues and it’s just as good as any of the players individual bands have released.
Diamond Rugs (2013)
Key Track: Blue Mountains
A hook up, this time, with various members of Los-Lobos, Deer Tick and Black Lips. The album has it’s moments, but ultimately a lot of it is fairly unremarkable or forgettable. It’s basically the sound of a group of musicians quitting their day job, getting drunk and playing some songs that sound a bit like the Stones. It’s wholly listenable, but don’t expect to find yourself humming the songs the next day.