April 22, 2005


Todd Thibaud.jpg

Romantic missteps benefit from extra twang

For someone who apparently has had his heart stomped upon more times than your average troubadour, Todd Thibaud sure never seems to get tired of not only recalling such occasions, but churning out songs about them.

Still, while the Boston-based singer/songwriter has carved out a niche by consistently melding such dark subject matter into a bright brand of plainly-spoken roots rock, he seemingly could stand to mix things up now and again.

Thibaud does vary the formula a bit on his fourth album, Northern Skies (95 North Records), but not by touching on any new themes; the disc has 13 more tracks that find him either again failing to get the girl or wondering if he might be better off without her altogether. This time out, however, Thibaud and his sizeable cast of studio players push things in a more twang-centric direction, and in the tried-and-true honky-tonk tradition, it only makes his romantic missteps sound even more earnest.

Early on, a slinky slide guitar anchors the fittingly titled "Let It Slide," while "Lost Again" features prominent splashes of dobro and mandolin that drive it along. And "Sleep Tonight" contains a genuine plea from a weary lover that could have been culled from Country Songwriting 101 ("So love me, take me and lead me to your door, because I don't have the strength to wander anymore").

Elsewhere, "Why Can't I Explain?" is a welcome Tom Petty meets Steve Earle boot-stomper. And on "Louisiana," Thibaud eloquently finds some clarity while mulling a tattered relationship through the haze of drink when he offers: "There's no love in alcohol, it's a fix and that is all."

For all of Thibaud's winning warmth, there are some are less enthralling moments: There is the occasional tired metaphor or two ("I could drown in all my good intentions/I'm a slave to the chains of love"), and "Is Love My Friend?" seems recycled, right down to the song title itself, from his previous record, 2000's Squash. If those are just indicators that Thibaud is a long way from becoming the next Merle Haggard, there certainly is no shame in that. Nobody puts more heart into their hooks than Thibaud, and the strides he makes on Northern Skies are enough to make it a worthy soundtrack for crying in one's beer.

-- By George Henn

Posted by medleyville at April 22, 2005 05:01 PM