Maybe Deer Tick's leader, John McCauley, doesn't like to be alone. In '94, McCauley had initially intended to write songs and perform as a solo artist, but Deer Tick has evolved into a bona fide band. Diamond Rugs, McCauley's new side project, was intended as another solo project but also quickly morphed into another band. Collaborating with Deer Tick colleague Robbie Crowell, drummer Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite, Black Lips' Ian Saint Pé, Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate and Los Lobos' reed player Steve Berlin, McCauley has managed to create a solid collection of songs that percolate with just enough drunken swagger.
Diamond Rugs reeks of the alcohol-fueled rock ‘n' roll that propelled The Faces in their heyday. And though the record has its whiffs of hillbilly folk and country, the reckless spirit of Paul Westerberg and his Minneapolis-based band The Replacements is unmistakable. It makes sense that veteran arranger Berlin assisted in pushing Diamond Rugs into something beyond simply throwing material against a metaphorical wall and seeing if it sticks. For "Call Girl Blues" and "Tell Me Why," Berlin's arrangements give the songs punch and structure.
The rewards in The Rugs' songs are simple. Tales abound of girlfriends leaving ("Hightail") or guys getting kicked out ("Out on My Own"). In "Gimme A Beer," McCauley shouts over a stinging pedal steel riff, "I want the kind of credit where I sign and forget it. I want the kind of hand that I could look at and admire -- not a goofy ball of flesh, ... but oh, who cares, gimme a beer." The excellent rendition of the little known garage-pop nugget "I Took Note," by Mandarin Dynasty provides one of the record's highlights.
The album's closer, "Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant," is not only the perfect response to The Pogues' "Fairytale in New York," but it also reveals McCauley at his best and most vulnerable. With a lone piano accompaniment, McCauley's scratchy voice begs, "How's the turkey, how's the ham? I can't finish my moo goo gai pan. But that's not all; they cut me off from alcohol. But anyway, you go on, deck the halls." It's simultaneously sad and pathetic, while wrapped in humor.
Diamond Rugs, a name coined by McCauley after the numerous rugs he slept on while on endless tours since 2004, is an ironically apt nom de band. Rising from the ashes, lint and beer stains, there are true diamonds coming up like roses from this particular rug.