Album Review: Bobby Bare, Jr. – Undefeated

bobby-bare-jr-undefeatedUndefeated, Bobby Bare Jr.’s fourth album with his Young Criminals’ Starvation League, anchors him ever deeper into the soil of American music.  Channeling decades of influence from his own father to the hollows of Appalachia and country music’s rolling green pastures, Bobby Bare Jr. puts all doubts aside with a set of ten tracks that deliver.  Instrumentation, songwriting, and production come together on this album to place Bare in a category occupied only by those demonstrating a mastery of language, rhythm, and the dynamic demonstration of push and pull inflection. Bare, not unlike Tom Waits, often stumbles along the line of chaos, and sometimes, the line follows him.

He barrels through on the opening track, “North Alabama by Mornin’,” as the title suggests.  Buzzing and rumbling like an 18-wheeler of muscle, the overdriven organ has a bite so sharp it’s like a quick backhand to the right side of the face.  A kind of, “wake the fuck up, son.  You better get yer ass in gear, or yer ass is grass.”  The harmonized and doubled vocal track runs through like a possessed messenger of hell echoing that chaotic line: “Am I holding the steering wheel/or is it holding me?”  I don’t know, but I’m riding shotgun and I’m ready to go.

Bare is too, singing in the spiteful third track, “The Big Time.”  Delivered to a non-believer, Bare sees the future and it’s bright.  Production-wise, this one comes across similarly to an M. Ward track with its wide-open drums, doubled lead vocal and slappy guitar leads. His witty, autobiographically relatable lyrics give Bare a human touch we can immediately feel and sing along with.  This ability is what separates the master from the hobbyist—the auteur from the amateur.

Bare’s voice sounds otherworldly on this album.  Like the aforementioned Tom Waits, it seems as though Bare has the ability to recall a particular scourge of cosmic emotion into his voice.  On his website is advertised an offer for home shows where Bare can be rented for an intimate performance.  In classic DIY style, Bare gets up in front of a few lucky onlookers who witness a troubadour of song.  Watching the only video on his site, I was quickly transported back to my college days where a few dudes and ladies got together in a room of a converted convenience store, “Ed’s,” listening to some local folk and some traveling folk.  Stories were told and some had a chance to catch up.  Smiles and pleasant looks upon pleasant eyes lifted up from the nooks with which we held our times from ever ending.  It was intimate and personal; we escaped our own minds and were allowed to enter into the mind of another body, one more similar than not to our own.  It’s this ability to relate to the human struggles and conditions that makes great art and songwriting successful.

It’s this great oral tradition of song that Bare continues. From the weeping pedal steel to the chug of a red-hot tube amp, you can feel the sweat in this record.  Undefeated is hot.  It almost steams up my room, but steam keeps you clean. It keeps you clean from the dirt that gets kicked up by these songs that tell as many tales as the boots Bare wears from gig to gig, city to city, brake pedal to gas.  The title track does everything to make you drop a tear into that beer in your hand.  And hell, I swear my beer didn’t taste this salty before I got through this album’s climax.  The guitar solo rips away from the cascading harmonies of the chorus, looking for a reason to throw everything and everyone away.  And we do throw everything away, at least for a moment when the electric piano is literally beckoning you onward, upward, further and further into the Major-Tom-skies of this space oddity.  You have been delivered; I have been delivered; we have been delivered together and saved by this songwriting prophet, Mr. Bobby Bare Jr.

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