Todd Snider and the Case of the Missing Song (6/19/98)

Todd Snider, Viva Satellite (MCA 1998) - Todd Snider is a Southern rocker with his tongue planted firmly in cheek. With his third studio album, Viva Satellite, Snider shifts from a slacker, smart-aleck persona into more of a blues-and-roots feel.

For the new album, Snider provides guitar and lead vocals, and is backed by Paul Buchignani on drums, Will Kimbrough on guitar, Rick Steff on Hammond organ, and Joe Mariencheck on bass. (Snider calls his band the "Nervous Wrecks.")

Snider has developed an enthusiastic college following, and has a strong fan base in Santa Cruz, California. Says Snider, "At least on Friday night, we should be able to get together and celebrate the victory that's coming some day. That's what a rock show is supposed to be like. Live and let live. Love who you want."

Viva Satellite was produced by John Hampton, who has worked with the Gin Blossoms. The fourteen songs bear influences of both Texas (Snider cites Jerry Jeff Walker as a hero) and Memphis (other influences include Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry).

With songs like "Double wide Blues" and "Out All Night," Snider sings of trailer parks and troubled times. Yet his cover of "The Joker" (by Steve Miller) has a deconstructionist feel, and "Satisfaction Guaranteed" is a solid, grudge-influenced rocker.

Snider has a history of hiding his best song as a hidden track (witness 1994's Songs for the Dailey Planet, which contained the satiric hit song, "Talking Seattle Grunge Blues," as a hidden track) and Viva Satellite continues the trend: the last, hidden track is one of the best on the album, with a Rolling Stones, "Love in Vain," feel.

Snider's a talented guy, but seems to be shifting gears. With Viva Satellite, he strikes a more mature note, moving from his semi-comic background. Snider's Southern Baptist religious influences also come to play on Viva Satellite. Will new fans find Todd? Time will tell.

Bran Van 3000, Glee (Capitol 1998) - Bands like Bran Van 3000, also known as BV3, drive me crazy: it's impossible to draw a bead on them. Hailing from Montreal, the nine-person band delivers a swirl of pop, hip-hop breaks, and psychedelic samples that landed the group a Juno award (the Canadian Grammy equivalent) for "best alternative album."

Truly, these guys are all over the place. Like worthy predecessors, Big Audio Dynamite, BV3 delivers a heady mix that never stops moving.

BV3 is fronted by James "Bran Man" DiSalvio, and includes singers Sara Johnston and Jayne Hill, guitarist Nick Hynes, soul diva Stephane Moraille, rapper Steve "Liquid" Hawley, "Electronic-Pierre" Bergen, bass player Gary McKenzie, and drummer Rob Joanisse. Says DiSalvio, "It is almost like a marriage took place at the end of the album, and that's the family that crystallized as a result."

With the swirling samples and constant changes, Glee never settles into a steady groove. But "Exactly Like Me" is a sweet pop gem, while "Cum On Feel the Noize" (originally recorded by Slade) brings fresh life to this venerable cut. (Also note the Love-like photo on the back of the album.) While it is hard to settle into Glee from front to back, the singles have the potential for long legs.

Superdrag, Headtrip in Every Key (Elektra 1998) - The quartet known as Superdrag return with their sophomore production, Headtrip in Every Key. A tight band with hundreds of live performances behind them, Superdrag makes solid rock and roll for the 90's.

The band consists of John Davis on guitar, keyboards, vocals, theremin, and sitar, Brandon Fisher on guitar, Tom Pappas on bass, and Don Coffey, Jr. on drums. The foursome came together in the early 90's, and released two independent productions before their major label debut with Regretfully Yours in 1995 (produced by Tim O'Heir).

The new album was produced by Jerry Finn (who has worked with Green Dayand the Smokin' Popes), who helps deliver a non-digital sound. Says drummer Don Coffey, "Even though we are going to a fuller sound, we're an original guitar-bass-drums rock 'n roll band, and we don't want to lose that, either."

Headtrip in Every Key is a solid studio production, with a compressed recording sound. In fact, that's the one thing that stands out: the mix tightens everything down, giving the band a classic, 60's full sound.

With songs like "Do the Vampire," "I'm Expanding My Mind," and "Shuck & Jive," Superdrag isn't out to deliver the Gospel in the Key of Rock. Rather, this is classic headphones-on, stoner music. And Superdrag delivers as promised. Enjoy Headtrip in Every Key.

- Randy Krbechek