The Judges Discuss: Deer Tick, “The Black Dirt Sessions”

Today, the Uncut Music Award judges consider Deer Tick's "Black Dirt Sessions"...

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Today, the Uncut Music Award judges consider Deer Tick’s “Black Dirt Sessions”…

Allan Jones: It’s very encouraging to see that they’ve got this far. When I first saw the 25-album long list I thought they’d be rank outsiders. Chris Difford was very enamoured of this, and you were also, Mark.


Mark Cooper: To be honest, this was the big discovery for me in terms of this award. I hadn’t heard them before, although somebody sent me the record when it first came out and I didn’t get round to listening to it, which I regret. It blew me away, this record, I loved it. I thought, ‘Oh god, what a strong and original voice’. I suppose in some ways they have lots of trad Dylanesque elements, and I just believed right from the start in the songwriting, and in the sense of the man.

I think “Goodbye, Dear Friend” is one of the best songs I’ve heard in ages. You just believe that song, you’re at the funeral with him. I like the ambition of the record, although I suspect some people will find his [John McCauley] voice grating because it has a harsh grain to it, but I love it. I’m very glad to be part of this panel, if only because it introduced me to something very special that would otherwise have passed me by.

Allan: By the time it gets to “Christ Jesus” McCauley lets his voice go completely, I mean that could have been on the second side of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, it’s a totally unfettered vocal. I can imagine people being quite scared of it, actually, it gets very scary live.


Mark: There’s real emotional meat on the record, I think.

Tony Wadsworth: Well, I’m one of those people who didn’t like his voice particularly. I think the songwriting is great, and it was a discovery for me too, because I hadn’t previously heard any of their stuff. I loved “Goodbye, Dear Friend”, I thought “20 Miles” was really good, but his voice is what stops me from loving it. Also, a lot of the time I thought, musically, we’ve been here before. There’s one song where what is essential the “Sympathy For The Devil” guitar solo kicks off – and I didn’t that was especially great the first time round, to be honest. I think there are people in this sphere of music who do this sort of thing so much better, and I’m not just thinking of Dylan or the Stones, I’m thinking of more up-to-date artists like The Jayhawks. But at the end of the day, it is the voice that just doesn’t do it for me.

Phil Manzanera: Certainly, I’d never heard them before, and I was quite surprised because it wasn’t what I was expecting. For some reason, I was expecting to hear something closer to hard rock. I liked the first track, but as the album progressed I found his voice a bit too gruff for my own tastes. I did persevere, and I think the record probably repays several visits, but on first listen I got distracted about two-thirds of the way through, it just wasn’t grabbing me enough.

Danny Kelly: I can totally buy into how devoted to the music the artist is; you can hear it in the songwriting, there are times when he could go for the easy option but he doesn’t. That’s to be commended, but I also have to go along with things that have been said earlier, in that the songs, or the music around the songs, have to be remarkably better than they are to sustain that voice over the whole length of the LP.

The things being said in the songs would have to be more powerful and more direct for me to overlook the voice in which they were being said, because I too did find it a bit grating. I gotta be honest, I found it a bit samey as well. I don’t doubt for one minute that there will be some people who find the downcast-ness of it really fascinating, and I don’t know the back story of John McCauley to help me in that respect. I couldn’t say that I liked it very much.

Hayden Thorpe: I thought it was a really endearing record, I like the fact that John is not afraid of putting his character across without editing himself in any way, even if it is a bit confrontational and difficult to stomach at times. I think the lexicon he uses is incredible, the way he uses the rhymes and argot of the southern states of America, that really pushed my buttons. As has already been mentioned, that one song “Goodbye, Dear Friend” is amazing.

It is what it is, at the end of the day, it’s quite lo-fi, very basic in how it was recorded. If you read the lyrics in the CD booklet while you’re listening to the songs you’ll notice that they don’t always correspond, which gives the record a spontaneous feel. It probably isn’t quite visionary enough to be right up there and win this award, but for what it is it’s a really well-made and good-intentioned record.


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