Todd Snider and Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools have produced one of the most interesting concept albums you’re likely to hear this year: Hard Working Americans. That’s also the name of the band which united Snider and Schools with kindred spirits Neal Casal, Chad Staehley and Duane Trucks, all prominent musicians on the jam band festival circuit.
Drawn from a variety of sources, every track tells the story of a hard-working American, from Randy Newman’s “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” to Hayes Carll’s “Stomp and Holler.” One of the high points, so to speak, is a straightforward rendering of the Bottle Rockets’ “Welfare Music,” co-written by that band’s frontman, Brian Henneman.
By email, Schools answered a few songs for CMT Edge about that standout track.
CMT Edge: The production here suits the song — electric, without getting in the way of the message. What sort of approach did you take in the studio before recording it?
Schools: What we were trying to do in the studio was to distill the original artist’s message and melody down to its essence and then rebuild the song in our own way as a group. There was often a lot of deconstruction and mood-altering going on with some of the tunes, but “Welfare Music” was one of the tunes that didn’t require too much of that kind of work.
What do you remember about the time when you first heard the Bottle Rockets and/or “Welfare Music”?
I actually had never heard “Welfare Music” until Todd Snider sent around the original artists’ versions of the songs that wound up comprising the HWA recording. But I remember the Bottle Rockets getting so much great ink in the ‘90s. In the midst of all the post-grunge fluff and empty hard pop, they were a breath of fresh air — something very American and real. And obviously a very influential and smart band.
We just rough-necked it up a little bit. Todd delivered an amazing and believable vocal performance, and Neal Casal worked up a one-of-a-kind guitar solo that sounds like a twisted hornpipe/anthem. We were all very pleased with how the final track turned out. It seems to fit Brian’s intent perfectly, if we could be so bold as to guess what that was.
With so many vivid lyrics in the song, does one line or phrase stand out to you?
My personal favorite is “Angry fat man on the radio wants to keep his taxes way down low.” Now it strikes me that the angry fat man in question might well be Rush Limbaugh. Duh! And when I hear that line, I marvel somewhat fearfully at how a loudmouth anger monger like Limbaugh could stay in control of a microphone. But I suppose, just like anything, one could always switch the channel.
Hear the Hard Working Americans’ version of “Welfare Music.”