Todd Snider, “Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3” (Aimless/Thirty Tigers)
The microphone pops when Todd Snider delivers an especially emphatic lyric, and his chair creaks under the weight of his performance. The rustic charm of the setting — Johnny Cash’s recording studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee — is audible throughout an album that ranks with Snider’s best work.
On “Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3,” Snider is clearly inspired by his historic surroundings, and he came armed with marvelous material to enhance the intimate front-porch feel. (The album title is a bit confusing, because there was no Vol. 1 or 2, and the CD jacket sports a photo of Snider holding a single finger aloft.)
The 34-minute set features mostly a one-man band, with occasional backing vocals from Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. Snider accompanies himself with Cash’s Martin guitar, a 12-string guitar, mandolin, harmonica and a four-string banjo that’s perfect on “The Blues on Banjo” even though he can barely play it.
As usual, Snider’s best instrument is his sharp wit. He sings a song about a song, fondly remembers an Elvis roadie, reflects on the history of TV and addresses our current follies, most pointedly on the closing “A Timeless Response to Current Events.”
Snider makes it all as engaging as a visit from a funny friend, a vibe not easily created. According to the excellent liner notes, Snider’s breathtaking screed on “The Blues on Banjo” was captured on the first take, but other songs involved up to 40 takes. Polish is sometimes needed to achieve raw beauty, as Johnny Cash well knew.