Liverbirds is sort of like a sequel to Bad Astronaut and Armchair Martian’s War of the Worlds in that it is a split between Joey Cape and Jon Snodgrass. However, it also draws comparisons to Cape’s split with Tony Sly by being acoustic and by both Cape and Snodgrass “covering” their own songs (as opposed to covering each other--which is what was done on War of the Worlds). Unlike Cape’s split with Sly and, more in the vein of War of the Worlds, Liverbirds is collaborative.
The first half of the release contains Cape’s songs. Cape’s song choices for this release are all Lagwagon tracks and all rather old (with no songs off anything later than Double Plaidinum). First, we get “To All My Friends” (originally on Double Plaidinum) which starts off with a mandolin before the acoustic guitars come in. Cape sings the first verse before Snodgrass takes over lead vocals. Then Cape and Snodgrass sing together before it goes back to Cape. I won’t keep describing the vocalist changes, but the song is essentially continued in that manner. Here is a video of Cape, Snodgrass, and Chad Rex playing the song to get an idea:
Next up is “Whipping Boy,” (originally on Trashed and covered by Armchair Martian (available on Happy Meals Volume 3 and Good Guys...Bad Band)) which is a little more “straight forward” but still has some extra instruments and backing vocals utilized. It sounds great and strangely sad compared to how it sounded done by Lagwagon. Following it are “Making Friends” (originally on Double Plaidinum), which has piano, and “Angry Days” (originally on Duh), which uses more mandolin. Both songs really make it clear how reworking old songs can be done well. The songs sound fresh and not like simply retreading old ground. Turning the songs acoustic gives them a different tone. The lyrics that should have had an obvious meaning really stand out on these tracks. The final Lagwagon song is “Alien 8” (originally on Double Plaidinum), a song that originally started off acoustically before turning into a punk song. Here, it simply has more acoustic instruments come in and make the song more beautiful rather than more loud.
At this point, the album moves onto Snodgrass’ songs. The track presented are three Armchair Martian originals, a Drag the River song and a completely brand new composition. Song six is “Breaking Your Frame,” which Bad Astronaut fans may be familiar with from Houston: We Have a Drinking Problem, but which was originally on Who Wants to Play Bass?. Snodgrass’ vocals are perfect for the acoustic guitar and Cape’s minimal backing vocals work great. Nothing too fancy is done of this song, just acoustic guitar. After that, “Jessica’s Suicide” (originally on Armchair Martian’s self-titled album, but also covered by Bad Astronaut on War of the Worlds) comes, which can be seen being played by the duo here.
Cape’s backing vocals are more prominent on “Jessica’s Suicide” and it works great. Once again, the only instruments are acoustic guitars. Next, we get one of my favorite songs, “Losing Everyone,” a song covered by Lagwagon (on Let’s Talk About Leftovers), but originally by Drag the River (on Closed.). Snodgrass sings with just the right somber tone and Cape is back to fairly quiet backing vocals.
This is followed by “Spiderman, Wolfman,” a self-described “children’s song.” The track is a little ridiculous, but quite enjoyable if you don’t take your music overly seriously. Sample lyric: “Spider-man / The wolfman / All are great men / I count them as friends / You should recognize that weirdy and beardy, they’re hard to contain / But we’re all the same / We’re all sometimes lame / That’s alright.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of message I want my kids getting from their music.
“Mexican Song” is the final track of the album (and the first track on Who Wants to Play Bass?) and it is quite mellow, just like the original. With a line like “Inside my heart, I’m alone,” how could it not be?
The main statement I have about this album is that it is really good. While I’m admittedly not turned off by the “trend” of punk singers going acoustic and have enjoyed Cape’s previous acoustic covers of his own songs, I’m still a little surprised how fresh these songs sound when I’ve already heard one or two other versions of the song. My one qualm, if I must have one, is the lack of variety in song choices. I think all of the songs are great, but Cape used three different songs off Double Plaidinum. Snodgrass had more variety, but it would have been cool to get a song off Hang on, Ted or Monsters Always Scream. However, all these complaints only really exist in the realm of the what-ifs and other vague possibilities. Taking this for what it is, rather than what it could have been, Liverbirds is an incredibly enjoyable acoustic album and I hope to hear another release from Cape and Snodgrass someday soon.