Let’s talk about roots country for a second - about Hank (Williams) all the way to Dwight (Yoakham) and all the middle-finger flashing rebels in-between (like Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, Waylon Jennings etc). Or maybe we should talk about West Coast country; the place where country reached out to a metaphorically foreign audience, via hippie acts like The Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmylou Harris. OR we could even talk about alt-country in a more modern context, dropping names like: The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, Golden Smog and Neko Case.
But really, we could just talk about the SF trio, Rin Tin Tiger: the logical conclusion, and sum of all aforementioned parts - and then some. Because their latest, “Splinter Remedies” is worthy of comparison against their influences, as they've shown mastery; even bringing innovation to their genre.
Even establishing a genre is up for debate. RTT self-labels themselves ‘alt-folk,’ which is probably safe considering the album's cover art is an homage to Woody Guthrie and that the album’s very first, title track smacks of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” with its quick-jaunt attitude. Sprinkle in a bit of Violent Femmes-ish songwriting, a few curse words to boot, and you have something incomparable and unique.
And that just cracks the surface.
“Spit” could be a Neko Case song if she had written the track for D.C. experimental, post-punk toupe, The Dismemberment Plan. “Talkin’ Good Woman” toes the line between Hank Williams III’s cow-punk and Appalachian folk, as does the tongue-in-cheek humor of “Bloodstains.” While songs like “Haunted Now” and “Suffer No More” have a melancholic sway reminiscent of The Jayhawks, complete with gorgeous, knee-buckling, vocal harmonies. (Incidentally, “Haunted Now” holds the album’s brutally simple, most poignant, lyrical line: “Love just makes you crazy. F*cks up your breathin.’ Breath in.”) The honky-tonk feel and teeth-snarling sashay of “Waterfront Blues” expands on the gritty-yet-stylish range of RTT, while “Kill Me Rag” is chock full of comedic analogies and boot-stomping, beer-spilling, knee slaps. But it’s the final track, “Precaution,” that shows RRT isn’t afraid of the rules, with it’s swarming bass-line, and rapid-fire vocals and well-placed discordance; it’s Primus meets Possum Dixon. Brilliant.
“Splinter Remedies” is a damn-near perfect album. With Rin Tin Tiger staying flexible with their creations, while maintaining the elements that are distinctly theirs, they build a record that is wholly entertaining, wistful and pensive. It’s a record written by people who’ve 'done the listening,' and have approached songwriting as such, without alienating listeners. It’s as disarming as a sharp-toothed, three-legged dog, and more than worthy of your sympathy, laughter and heart-ache.
Listen to "Splinter Remedies" via bandcamp.
Rin Tin Tiger's next performance will be at the Great American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, California), this Saturday, Aug. 31st, where they'll take part in a joint CD release party alongside French Cassettes.
Opening for the show will be San Jose's Picture Atlantic. Doors open at 8 p.m., with cover set at $15.
Visit the GAMH website for more info.