At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish about the global pandemic that has decimated so much of 2020, there are a handful of “look on the bright side” affects of the worldwide shut down: school violence has obviously been way down, with no schools to go to; the environment is improving, thanks to the world population finally getting out of the way. And Frank Turner and Jon Snodgrass have finally found the time to focus on a follow-up to 2010’s Buddies. The concept behind that 10 track album was pretty simple, two ex-punk rockers turned acoustic troubadours, longtime friends, writing and recording the bulk of an album in one night.
The first record was short (under 30 minutes), light, and remarkably fun, like catching two of your favorite musicians fucking around backstage with their guitars and slowly getting drunk. Buddies II, made possible thanks to the forced isolation of COVID and I’m assuming a pretty strong Zoom connection, manages to be even better than the first outing.
The record opens with “Still Buddies,” a goofily peppy song name checking their mutual musician friends and what has happened to them in the break between these two records. The between song banter and track introductions are almost as entertaining as the songs, like the intro to “Retractions” where the duo admit to making some mistakes and misstatements on the first record that apparently bothered some (like mistaking Styx for Stryper). “If you try to write a record in less than a day with a handle of whiskey, you’re gonna make some mistakes,” the two sing in the song that follows. And if you can’t find the charm in Turner and Snodgrass after listening to that line, chances are you’re the problem.
The biggest difference between Buddies and Buddies II is cameos that show up on the latter, like Stephen Egerton (Descendents/ALL) on drums (who warrants his own song, “Stephen Plays The Drums”) and Todd Beene (Lucero, Chuck Ragan) who joins the duo on pedal steel on “Bad Times, Good Vibes”.
The two discuss, in a roundabout way, the current situation with COVID and sing about the global pandemic, on the strongest track on the record, “The Fleas” – referencing an old George Carlin bit about how the world will one day just shake us all of it like a dog shakes off fleas. Although it’s markedly different from the jokey, fun vibe of the record, it’s a beautiful poignant song with universal appeal. The closing track, “The Earth Is Flat,” also perfectly sums up that state of world affairs.
There are few things that have made 2020 redeemable: the concept of booze delivery, having the time to discover obscure British sitcoms on Netflix and, above all, the gift of Buddies II: Still Buddies, a striking bright spot on an otherwise shit year.