Born on Flag Day
* * * 1/2
I can’t lie; Born on Flag Day has been one of my most anticipated albums in some time. I remember discovering Deer Tick two years ago in the promos wasteland that was American Songwriter honcho Matthew Shearon’s office. War Elephant took a couple of listens, but I eventually became hooked on John McCauley’s throaty vocals and brooding ballads. The song, “Dirty Dishes,” recently made famous by NBC News anchor Brian Williams, offered more solace than a glass of brown liquor on ice, if only because it was nice to know that someone out there felt as bad as I did that summer. But we won’t get into that season of woe. Been there, done that.
The Providence, Rhode Island-based McCauley has seen his fair share of problems with substances and relationships, but on “Song About a Man,” he scoffs “you’re a fool for wanting everything.” That mantra echoes throughout Born on Flag Day, Deer Tick’s second release on Partisan Records, in lyrics found on songs like “Friday Xiii”(“I’ll buy you new shoes…/But all I need is you”) and “Hell on Earth” (“It’s what life’s always been”), as well as in the way such words are presented. The impish mechanism of grunge folk/outlaw country that drove War Elephant back in 2007 is back for another round in 2009. Despite a couple years growth, it’s still an imperfect beast. And better for it. Take the pining “Smith Hill,” which, even with its string arrangements, sounds like it was pieced together in a couple of takes in a sullen dining room. Or the scowling surf-country of “Straight Into the Storm,” a song that easily could have been recorded through the soundboard during one of the band’s trips down to the grimy, local dive. Hell, the Sun Studio shuffle of “Friday Xiii” is another one that might just be a smoky, karaoke duet caught on tape.
Deer Tick is more mature in its flaws, both personally and musically. Born on Flag Day allows such imperfections to rear their beautifully ugly head, delivering soul-piercing honesty when cool is the only way to be.