A few years ago, country-folk road-warrior Todd Snider abandoned his acoustic guitar and formed a new supergroup – Hard Working Americans – with veteran instrumentalists from the jam-band scene. Their 2014 debut was a surprisingly pointed post-Occupy covers collection centered around working class consciousness. The follow-up Rest in Chaos, with its dozen original songs, is the band’s first declarative statement of its own.
Clearly invigorated by the grooving psychedelic blues-sludge churned out by his new band, which is led by producer/bassist Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, Snider moves away from the sharp country storytelling chops displayed on Chaos in favor of a more abstract, observational impressionism. Sometimes, that means embracing the band’s trippy ethos on songs like “Opening Statement,” where he waxes philosophical about light, sound and dark matter over atmospheric, interweaving guitar from Neal Casal and Jesse Aycock. “Some guys are at their most connected,” Snider sings on "Dope is Dope," “When they are falling from grace.”
Chaos is Snider’s first album of original material in four years, surveying wreckage both personal and societal as he tries to make some sense of disorder and dystopia. These songs, often told by narrators who are unreliable at best, are populated with down-and-out druggies seeking salvation in their guitars, stubborn alcoholics and skeptical street-beggars. Highlights like the biblical stoner anthem “Half Ass Moses,” and “Massacre,” a Seventies country-tinged love ballad, however, show that Snider is still at his best when his songwriting closely mirrors the types of sarcastic slacker screeds and plainspoken weepers that he toggles between in his solo work.
At 67 minutes, this record could have probably used a bit more editing, but Rest in Chaos is definitive proof that Hard Working Americans is no half-baked side project. Instead, the group continues to be a fascinating roots-rock collaboration.