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Todd Snider is on the happy back end of happy hour at a favorite East Nashville bar, talking about his new album Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables. “This record doesnʼt come from good times,” Snider says. “I wanted to sound the way I feel, which sometimes means sounding like a broken soul.”
On the 10 new songs, Snider doesnʼt talk around the vulnerable part, or the angry part, or the part about how everything weʼre taught about goodness and righteousness and capitalism, about God and family values winds up exploding into violence and chaos, wonder and longing. He might carry the mantle of “storyteller” – itʼs what he titled his live record, after all – but Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is anything but a nice, folk/Americana troubadour album.
Itʼs not a nice anything.
It is jagged, leering, lurching and howling, and filled with unhappy endings both experienced and intimated: “It ainʼt the despair that gets you, itʼs the hope,” he sings in the album-closer, “Big Finish.” That Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is also roaringly funny is tribute to Sniderʼs unique sensibilities, and to his standing as what Rolling Stone magazine calls “Americaʼs sharpest musical storyteller.” Anguish without laughter is boring, like intensive care without morphine, and Snider has never been within 100 miles of boring. Also, he didnʼt earn the attention, friendship and fandom of American musical giants like Kris Kristofferson and John Prine by writing mopey protest songs.