After the critical and popular success of their 2017 self-titled double release Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2, the Rhode Island rockers are back with a beguiling compilation. Mayonnaise is a companion piece to those previous two records, with 13 songs altogether: alternate versions of four songs from Vol. 1, six originals and three choice covers.
Deer Tick, which started as a solo project of singer-songwriter John McCauley, is a solid four-piece band these days. They’re solidly in the indie-rock camp, but with firm roots in blues, folk, and country. Those two 2017 records were split into one that’s mostly acoustic and more folk-slash-country in sound, and one that proudly displays Deer Tick’s garage-punk side. I prefer it blended together like Mayonnaise, which alternates the rockers and the others.
They spent a year tightening up the songs on Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 on what they called the Twice Is Nice tour. I don’t know if the alternate versions on this album were recorded post-tour or were left over from the original session. I suspect they’re new recordings, because they’re generally funkier in feel and to me just generally work better, the way most songs get when they’re played live for weeks at a time. I don’t know how “Doomed From The Start” was not my favorite song of the year – except for the fact that this take on it, with its lightly reggae-flavored arrangement, is just … better. On the other hand, I wasn’t all that fond of the original “Cocktail,” a louche country lounge song that seemed like a hipster’s version of what a George Jones song might be. But the version that wraps up this album is rhythmically more interesting, sung with more passion, and features the phenomenal Spencer Cullum Jr. on pedal steel.
What about the new tracks? The opener “Bluesboy” (or is it “Spiral”?), is a grungey rocking blues that McCauley delivers very convincingly. The mid-tempo shuffler “Old Lady” sounds – both lyrically and musically – like a lost song from some ’70s Southern rockers. Both “Strange, Awful Feeling” and “Too Sensitive For This World” in their own ways seem very obvious homages to Tom Petty; one in acoustic finger-picked folky glory, the other floating on deeply reverbed electric guitar and sharp, clean production.
And the covers? At the No. 3 spot, The Pogues’ “White City” gives the whole record a shot in the arm, and McCauley’s snarling, raspy vocals do credit to the original; a synth replaces the original tin whistle with a subtle wink. At the other end of the spectrum is the gentle acoustic “Pale Blue Eyes” from the Velvet Underground, which has previously been done by the likes of R.E.M. and Alejandro Escovedo. It’s the longest song on the album and in some ways its centerpiece, truly moving as its final notes on mandolin and droning arco bass fade out.
And finally there’s a sharp take on George Harrison’s “Run Of The Mill,” a deep track that I’ve always loved from his solo debut All Things Must Pass. McCauley & Co. goose this one up a bit in tempo and intensity, and to me they totally nail it. I never thought to hear another act do this song, and as it turns out I’m glad it was Deer Tick.
It’s a bit of a hybrid, but Mayonnaise is a solid album nonetheless.