To boil it down for people who think they need to know about Rhode Island’s Deer Tick (and you actually should, but don’t feel overtly bullied to do so), singer-leader John McCauley is like a young Mick Jagger with Hank Williams Jr.’s problems. There have been two albums thus far: debut LP War Elephant was a country-fried, subdued glimpse into a future realized by the Bonnaroo-rock-star posturing of its follow-up, Born on Flag Day – think Kings of Leon on a Kurt Cobain bender.
Though billed as a more personal album (which is baloney — the toothless-hillbilly shtick is laid on thicker than ever), this is more of a tentative, ballad-heavy evolutionary step, particularly if you predicted something like unplugged-Guns n Roses-vs-Dylan coming out of all this. “Goodbye Dear Friend” is a piano bum-out that has its primordial roots in “You are So Beautiful” once you get past McCauley’s forced grizzled drawl. For me that’s a low point, and I could also have done without the desolate and desperate “Piece By Piece and Frame By Frame.” “The Sad Sun,” however, is a nice crossover of Smashing Pumpkins into bluegrass should you choose to view it that way, while “Mange,” “Twenty Miles” and “Choir of Angels” mix early Stones with Tom Petty, Creedence and alt-folk, which should and will be their default sound.