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Bobby Bare Jr. | Young Criminals' Starvation League (Bloodshot)
For his third album, Nashville's Bobby Bare Jr. has toned down his up-and-about country rock leanings in favour of a more subdued but equally energetic approach, and has made his best album by far in the process. The infectious campfire sing-along of I'll Be Around opens the album and spells out his intentions. This is sardonic and poignant front-porch country music that stoically refuses to be pigeon-holed. Playful and inventive, Bare comes across like Alejandro Escovedo toying around with Ryan Adams, or like Hank Williams joining Hawksley Workman's Americana cabaret. The album's Randy Newman moment comes on Dig Down, a rant about how everyone from Chuck Berry to the Pixies have said all there is to say, leaving nothing for those who follow in their footsteps - "This letter is addressed to Mr. Pete Townsend / Hey brother, I write you to say thanks for nothin'"). Elsewhere, Bare's lyrics centre around everyday misery rather than the more comical aspects of things. Songs like Flat Chested Girl from Maynardville and Bullet Through my Teeth are strange tales of 'regular' folk's problems dealing with their ordinary lives in a glossy world where being 'normal' feels like a sin. The Ending is a lovely song despite its lyrics verging on the banal and clich√©d ‚?? "All of these things I would not change / For these are things I would leave the same / The only thing I'd change would be the ending." Bare somehow steers it safely away from the embarrassing, and the song is one of the album's undeniable highlights, with its simple melody and the band's gentle handling of the track. Speaking of the band: Lambchop's Mark Nevers co-produced this with Bare, and Paul Burch, Tony Crow, Paul Niehaus and Matt Swanson all guest. The fact that Bare still manages to take the centre stage throughout should be evidence enough of the man's amazing voice and of the truly captivating strength of his material.

Stein Haukland
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002

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