Deer Tick

John McCauley and Deer Tick have long walked a tightwire between total despair and fractured resilience, but Negativity represents a heroic leap forward on virtually all fronts for the Providence, Rhode Island-based band. Recorded earlier this year in Portland, Oregon with legendary producer/musician Steve Berlin (The Blasters, Los Lobos, and last year’s McCauley side project, Diamond Rugs), the album –Deer Tick’s fifth full-length studio release, and follow-up to 2011’s acclaimed Divine Providence – is McCauley’s most personal work thus far as well as the band’s most undeniable and universal, their famously freewheeling musical approach refined here into a gloriously cohesive whole.

Deer Tick – sounding as sure-footed as one would expect from a band who have spent a couple of hundred nights each year on stage for more than half a decade – more than match the strength of the songs by taking a more detailed approach than on some of the breakneck recordings of their past. From the sparkling baroque pop of “The Dream’s In The Ditch” (penned by guitarist Ian O’Neil) to the full-blown Memphis showstopper, “Trash,” Negativity sees the Tick bridging boozy punk, AM gold, bar band blues, country soul, and whatever else catches their fancy into their own profoundly American rock ‘n’ roll. Additional sonic color comes courtesy of magnificently arranged brass accompaniment by Austin, Texas’s GRAMMY®-winning Latin fusion collective, Grupo Fantasma.

While Deer Tick have been rightfully hailed for their raucous rave-ups and substance-fueled fervor, Negativity places considerable focus on the band’s nuanced and tender side, with notable highlights including the wrenching breakup ballad, “Hey Doll,” and the stunning “In Our Time.” Written from his father’s perspective, the song is a timeless country tearjerker featuring McCauley’s good friend, singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton singing duet vocals in the “role” of his mom.

“I guess I’ll catch you on the other side,” McCauley sings in the album’s final moment, a promise that, despite the pain and fatalism and yes, negativity, he’s here for the long haul. Heartbreaking, fist-pumping, and ultimately life-affirming, Negativity stands as an indisputable high water mark for Deer Tick – a defining collection from a rock ‘n’ roll band driven by an undying faith in the power of redemption and transcendence.

The best of these folks who write songs make you think about time, and I find myself thinking about time a lot when I listen to Robert. When he and his Boys are plugged in, the final hours of a night race along in a sweaty, whisky-soaked blur. And when he sits on a stool — with just his guitar, voice and songs — time slows down, as he spins tales of love and life and the way they twist together and are torn apart as we march along to some destination chosen by the great rearranger.

We talk about his folk and his country as though they’re hot and cold handles on a faucet. The temperatures are perhaps different but it all has a fluid consistency. There are quieter songs about making a home and louder songs about breaking a home, but they’re all about being here now . . . even if they sound old as time while still being well built for the future. All of it could easily be classified as country, of a sort with the great writers and players Robert studies and admires, from George Jones to Paul Simon. Why deal with something as cold as genres. It’s American music through and through.

— Andrew Dansby

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The Firebird

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Deer Tick with Robert Ellis

Sunday, November 3 · Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:30 PM at The Firebird