As we head into this labor day weekend of cook-outs, fantasy football drafts, and the far more important beginning of college football season (Go Cocks!), we here at Twangville wanted to highlight an EP built for the dwindling days of summer. Patriotically (?) entitled Don’t Tread On Me….The Whiskey Tango Revue Sessions, the EP of note was recorded by Twangville’s own Todd Mathis with, as the name suggests, South Carolina regional favorites Whiskey Tango Revue.
Some of you may know Mr. Mathis from his main gig, fronting alt. rock-country favorites American Gun, but he’s also paid his dues as rhythm guitarist for the briefly-major-label signed, brit-rock-mid-aughts band Boxing Day. Todd has also lent his name to a number of diverse side projects ranging from his protest EP War Songs to a folk-gospel duo record with fellow South Carolina songwriter Zach Seibert. Given his Neil Young like zig and zagging of a discography, it’s not altogether surprising that Don’t Tread On Me sounds both instantly familiar and quite a bit different. If I were to stretch the Young analogy even further, I would say that Don’t Tread On Me finds Todd in Harvest-mode, as it is his most straight forward country sounding record to date. But don’t be fooled, Todd ain’t exactly trading in the electric guitars for nudie suits and pedal steel guitars.
After the playful yet traditional-folk sounding opener “20 lbs Hammer”, we get treated to “Elvis Presley Hits” with its roadhouse piano and Rhodes Bailey guitar licks. Lyrically the song finds the middle ground between Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” and Mike Cooley’s “Carl Perkin’s Cadillac.” The song reveals Todd’s deep appreciation of folk-rock’s master storyteller extraordinaire Todd Snider. Appropriately the Mathis Todd follows this homage with a cover of the Charlie Daniel’s classic “Long Haired Country Boy,” a song which, if it hadn’t been record in 1973, I would have put serious money on either having been written by or about Snider. Todd’s version is both loose and visceral. I much, much, prefer it to Daniels’ original. As the electric guitars ring throughout, Todd gives the lyric the kind of lived-in feel that Daniels’ straight-forward reading sadly lacks.
The final two songs find Todd in a more political mode. But much like his War Songs EP, these songs aren’t quite reading from the Country Joe-Joan Baez playbook. The first, “Mmm, Mmm”, feels optimistic at the outset, but as the narrators slowly ticks off the list of national problems (the war, the economy, Congress, healthcare, global warming, the SEC West, etc.) we get more and more discouraged. The song ends with the narrator stepping out back for another toke, just to avoid a heart attack. The second is the rollicking shuffle “NRA” with its chorus of “don’t let them take your guns away/ you got a right no matter what they say/ join the NRA, join the NRA, hey, hey”. The song juxtaposes the blatantly and hyperbolic pro-gun lyrics with clips of news-casters reporting on the escalating gun-violence in American culture.
Here’s Todd’s own disclaimer about the song:
I was about 12 when I got my first gun. It was a 4-10 shotgun. I think my great uncle Ralph found it for my dad at a flea market or gunsmith and it was my Christmas present. I was always taught to respect the gun and its power. I would load the chamber but not close the gun making it impossible to fire when in the truck or climbing under a fence or such. The first time I went dove hunting I used two boxes of shells (25 each) and didn’t hit a bird. I got better though, upgraded to a 20 gauge, and enjoyed an occasional bird hunt and skeet shoot.
Anyway, this song isn’t about hating or loving guns. My original focus when I wrote it 6 or 7 years ago was a rant against the NRA and their putting gun manufacturers’ interests above public safety. But in light of recent developments and the national discussion on guns, a national gun registry, the increased spending by the NRA lobby, the need for “hunters” to have an AK47 and 1300 rounds of ammunition etc., I thought I’d record a version, put it out there, and let people think of it what they want. Of course, Paul wouldn’t let me do that and insisted on putting in some audio clips so the NRA wouldn’t use it as propaganda and Ted Nugent wouldn’t cover it, and I agreed to that.
I hope it makes you think or adds a little piece to the gun debate. Obviously there is a problem and I like thinking about problems and debating ideas to solving them…even if I don’t have an answer.
Speaking of, I think the problem I have at the moment is I don’t have a beer.
June 10, 2013
I’m not gonna pretend that Todd isn’t a good friend of mine. So, yes, the above review may be a bit biased in his favor, but I dare you to listen to his American Gun recordings or his solo stuff or his other recordings and not come away with a new favorite songwriter/recording artist/all around bad-ass.
RIYL: Sierra Nevada Tumbler, Todd Snider records, Emily Bazelon
A lot of musicians express their views and opinions through the lyrics in their music. But few of them can change music genres to match the message in the lyrics. Playing an instrument as guest in someone’s else’s style of band is one thing, but recording a whole record with a different musical perspective is another thing entirely. That’s what Todd Mathis has done with Please…Don’t Tread On Me. If you’re familiar with Todd via his rock and roll crew in American Gun, well, this isn’t that.
The opening cut, 20 lb Hammer, is a catchy number, as is his cover of the Charlie Daniel’s classic, Long Haired Country Boy. Elvis Presley’s Hits is fun, and must have been fun writing to see how many Elvis songs he could name check. The final number on the EP is as good a social commentary as you’re going to hear without any of the vitriol you get on talk radio. Or maybe I just like irony. The best song on the disc, though, is Mmmm Mmmm. Featuring Todd’s fiancé Sully on viola, it’s a haunting reminder of how many issues our leaders are failing to resolve.
So while you’re giving thanks this weekend for the men and women that built this country, and keep it running, do yourself a favor and set aside 20 minutes to listen to Please…Don’t Tread On Me.
About the author: Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd