Anybody who has seen Todd Snider live knows that he performs with just an acoustic guitar. No backup singers, no supporting musicians, and only a harmonica around his neck to spice things up. He has to sell the song with his delivery alone. Amazingly enough, those live performances have more personality and depth than most of what Snider has put on tape to date.
With Peace, Love and Anarchy, the first of hopefully many such collections, we finally have the studio equivalent of those live performances. The compilation collects demo versions of songs that have appeared on earlier Snider albums, along with unreleased material.
As good as “Nashville” and “Missing You” were on their original albums, they sound much better here. The humor of the former track shines through in a more natural way, with Snider cracking himself up and ad-libbing a few good jokes about typical Nashville productions toward the end. He sounds more vulnerable on “Missing You” this time around, a sensitive vocal that matches the lyrical message.
The real discovery, though, is the unreleased material. The lost title track to Snider’s stellar 2004 collection East Nashville Skyline paints that area of town with such vivid lyrical imagery that it made me a bit nostalgic for the World’s Largest Adult Bookstore. “Old Friend” is a fantastic celebration of a long-term friendship between two guys who always have each other’s back, and bail when needed. “Barbie Doll” showcases just how clever a writer Snider is. Calling a girl a Barbie doll is nothing new, but Snider’s reason: she doesn’t have a heart. Nice twist on an old theme.
Snider is able to turn on a dime from a biting lament on growing older (“Combover Blues”) to a stripped-bare devotion to Christ (“I Will Not Go Hungry”) and sound as equally authentic in his belief in the after-life as he does when confessing the joints that used to calm his nerves now make him think he’s having a heart attack. “Some Things Are” is such a believably written story song that I almost felt voyeuristic, like I was in the doctor’s office with the family that’s waiting for the bad news they know is coming.
Snider has been one of my favorite artists for a long time, and while he’s made a few excellent albums, it’s always been difficult to recommend one as being definitive of who he is as an artist. For me, this new compilation fills that void perfectly. Peace, Love and Anarchy is the ideal introduction to Todd Snider as a singer and songwriter, a brilliant talent still bewilderingly under the radar of most music fans.