Human cloning may be a ways off, but somebody needs to check Todd Snider's DNA. On his impressive debut album, he sounds like the young Jerry Jeff Walker -- whiskey voice, laconic vocal delivery, and all -- with a couple genes spliced in from his labelmate John Prine's skewed worldview and sandpapery vocals. On second thought, chalk it up to Snider honoring his influences with one of the year's most pleasantly surprising albums. Snider's sound rests comfortably in a rootsy country-folk mold, with occasional use of strings and a pillowy chorus of female voices, or a striking solo female voice such as Kim Richey's on "Anywhere." Humor is a big part of his game, but he's sharp enough to offset the tomfoolery of the rollicking "Beer Run" with a cover of Prine's amusing, sly social commentary on "Crooked Piece of Time." Snider has a big, tender heart, too, and it's on the ballads that he really shines. His world-weary air and producer R.S. Fields's discreet, atmospheric touches bring grandeur to the literate, common man's poetry of "Waco Moon" and "Close Enough to You." Winning moment: In his warm tribute to a beloved analog format, "Vinyl Records," Snider offers an anecdote about an airline attendant who insists he choose between carrying on his bag of clothes or his bag of LPs -- he opts for the latter. With his inspired, heartland sound and his soulful wit, Todd Snider makes his mark early with New Connection.