There is a weird contradiction in the music of Rod Picott. This is a man singing about real life, his real life – he is the son of a welder and former Marine and made his living as a sheetrock (that’s dry wall to you and me) worker from the time he left school until he released his first CD. So these songs should be branded with the mark of authenticity, bear the rough edges of a blue collar life. But it’s hard to use an adjective like “rough” to describe Picott. He’s a nice guy, a gentle guy, and it shows in his music. Then again, is that a bad thing?
No one remembers your name just for working hard, Picott declares in the opening track, an elegy to the working man and tough times. It sums up many of the themes of the album – the struggles his characters face have them turning to drink, fighting and crime to get by. Their relationships are difficult, both with parents and with partners, and the ways out are not tempting prospects.
The cleverest and most compelling song is “Your Father’s Tattoo”, an exploration of generations and personal histories that will strike a chord with any adult child who’s ever tried to understand what makes their parents tick. The edgiest performance is “410”, a tale of unemployment and armed robbery – though not too armed, as the song says: Enough to get you into trouble / not enough to get you out.
“Black T-Shirt” – about a teenager being closed out of society – was previously recorded by the co-writer Slaid Cleaves, and anyone familiar with that version will inevitably compare them. To be honest, the Picott version doesn’t quite bear that comparison.
It is hard to be disappointed by the clear singing and clean guitar-playing of Picott, supported by the dramatic fiddle of his semi-regular collaborator Amanda Shires. Yet it would be disingenuous not to say it – Picott is an outstanding songwriter and, yes, a nice guy; but his performance lacks the edge that would take it from good to great.