Todd Snider is one of my favorite artists. Many of his albums are in regular rotation around my house, so it was a challenge to get them into an order that I didn’t want to second guess right away. But I think I did it. Maybe someone who’s discovering Snider for the first time with The Excitement Plan will find this helpful. As always, feel free to give your own rankings and thoughts in the comments.
1. Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (2003)
Am I cheating by starting with a live album? Maybe, but I don’t care. Nothing captures Snider and all his boozy, rambling charm like this live album. Well, except for that five-disc bootleg compilation of his stories and songs, which you’ve certainly picked up by now, right? But as far as commercially-available stuff of consistent sound quality all wrapped up into one neat, accessible package, this is it. For those who haven’t been won over yet, it also handily functions as a damn near perfect introduction to the artist.
2. East Nashville Skyline (2004)
Not just Snider’s best studio album, but one of the finest albums put out by anyone in the past decade. Stephen M. Deusner (who’s now writing at The 9513 too) reviewed it for Pitchfork back when it came out, saying: “Snider has released the wittiest and feistiest album of his career, one that distills the wit, melody, and bristly songwriting of his previous albums into a dozen concentrated songs bolstered by a rowdy backing band that includes long-time cohort Will Kimbrough.” That seems to cover it. This album is everything I like about Todd Snider.
3. The Devil You Know (2006)
Snider followed up the career highlight of East Nashville Skyline with an album that very nearly matched it, earning him some of the best reviews of his career and landing him on several major best-of-2006 lists. Major label backing probably helped with the visibility (he had switched from John Prine’s indie Oh Boy to New Door, a subsidiary of Universal), but it was also a legitimately strong record deserving of the praise.
4. The Excitement Plan (2009)
His first pairing with producer Don Was isn’t as dynamic as some of his other recent efforts, settling into a quiet groove that’s only occasionally broken up by the likes of “Bring ‘Em Home” and the Loretta Lynn duet “Don’t Tempt Me.” Although the songwriting is typically top notch, giving listeners a window into what makes the character of Todd Snider so endearing, it’s not the best exposition of what makes him musically compelling. The two studio albums ranked above this one take more chances musically and have greater payoffs.
5. Happy to Be Here (2000)
It doesn’t get talked about much, but this is an extraordinarily well-balanced album featuring Snider classics like “Long Year,” “Lonely Girl,” “D.B. Cooper” and “Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern,” as well as lesser-known gems like “Keep Off the Grass,” “Just in Case,” and “Missing You.” Solid all the way around.
6. New Connection (2002)
Could easily swap this for the previous one depending on my mood. I just went through the tracklist and couldn’t figure out which songs to name as highlights: too much good stuff. I think the Oh Boy years were pretty good to Snider, as his previous two releases saw him floundering a bit. Beginning with Happy to Be Here in 2000, he really started to build on the groundwork laid by his debut, up next…
7. Songs for the Daily Planet (1994)
The hidden track “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues” seems to get a lot of attention, but this disc also includes such gems as “My Generation, Part 2,” the classic “Easy Money,” slacker anthem “Alright Guy” (Gary Allan would record it and name an album after it several years later), and the poignant/melodramatic “You Think You Know Somebody.” How’s that for a beginning?
8. Peace Queer (2008)
Snider is one of the few artists on either side of the aisle that I’d trust to make a political EP of this sort because he has the good sense to tackle serious subject matter without taking himself too seriously.
9. Peace, Love, and Anarchy (2007)
Snider’s “Rarities, B-Sides, and Demos” from the Oh Boy years comprise a very listenable album in their own right, highlighted by collaborations (of the songwriting and singing varieties) with pal Jack Ingram and the unassuming comedic gem that is “Combover Blues.”
10. Step Right Up (1996)
Snider’s sophomore effort wasn’t quite as interesting or as sharp as his debut, but did introduce fan favorites like “Side Show Blues,” “Moon Dawg’s Tavern,” “Tension,” and “Horseshoe Lake” to the beginning of what would soon grow into quite an impressive oeuvre.
11. Viva Satellite (1998)
Not much to say about this one, which would likely fall at the bottom of most anyone’s list. Snider attempted to go rock and it didn’t work very well. Not irredeemably bad by any means, but a misstep for sure.