A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 28, 2007
In my book, the original 1973 version of Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends, and Lies ranks right up there with Willie Nelson’s Phases and Stages, Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes, and Jerry Jeff Walker’s Viva Terlingua as one of the most lofty achievements of the Outlaw Era in Country Music.
Despite the fact that “Marie Lavaux” became a hit single, Bare has unjustly been forgotten through the years except by his diehard fans. But now comes a righteous rerelease of Lullabys in an expanded two-disc version. It’s full of “tales about murders and blueberry pie,” as Bare sings on the title cut, and was recorded live in the studio before an audience that included music cronies like Waylon and Mickey Newbury.
Bare’s gentle, drawling baritone — whether he’s singing or talking the lyrics — is responsible for much of the charm on these records. He’s like a wizened old cowboy telling tall tales with a wink in his eye. The humor usually is gentle, though a listener never knows when he might say something outrageous. And while the stories mostly are funny, very few are told just for laughs.
Bare probably would be the first to say that the late songwriter Shel Silverstein deserves equal credit here. Famous for writing novelty songs like “A Boy Named Sue,” “The Unicorn,” and “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” as well as a number of bestselling children’s books, Silverstein also wrote or co-wrote a batch of great tunes for Bare.
There’s “Paul,” an irreverent look at the mythical lumberjack that transforms Bunyan from a cartoonish giant into a live, sweaty human. Then there’s “The Winner,” the hilarious story of a veteran barroom scrapper giving hard-won advice to a young challenger full of liquor and testosterone.
These and other songs are funny. But Shel and Bobby could get serious, too. “In the Hills of Shiloh,” is the tale of a woman whose husband apparently died in the Civil War. “Have you heard her mournful cries in the hills of Shiloh?/Have you seen her haunted eyes in the hills of Shiloh?” A twist at the end of the story makes the song even more poignant.
The jewel in this crown is “Rosalie’s Good Eats Café,” an eight-minute portrait of the people who populate an all-night diner. It’s funny — I still laugh out loud at the verse about the price the short-on-cash hippie might have to pay for his burger and coffee — but it’s an all-too-real depiction of a microcosm of America. There’s a waitress painting her nails; a sad couple who barely speak to one another; a pilfering cook who once was a rodeo star; a pregnant girl who can’t find the father of her child; insomniacs, winos, lost souls, losers, and dreamers. The onions fry, the neon flickers, the jukebox provides the soundtrack. You can almost imagine Bare and Silverstein at a table in the back, drinking endless cups of coffee while taking all of it in, laughing at folks mainly, but shedding an occasional tear for them as well.
The one clunker here is the ultrasappy, sentimental “Daddy What If.” Let’s just say that Bobby Bare Jr. apparently has forgiven his dad for making him sing this cornball duet, so I guess we can, too. Actually, hearing Bare Sr.’s introduction, laughing at how one day young Bobby (now an alt-country star in his own right) would be embarrassed by this song,I feel better about it.
Disc one of this new version is the original album, while disc two is a collection of other Silverstein songs Bare has recorded through the years — including the notorious “Quaaludes Again,” a so-so country version of “Sylvia’s Mother,” “This Guitar Is for Sale” (a waltz that would have been lethal in the hands of Waylon Jennings), and the anthemic “Tequila Sheila.” As a whole, these don’t come close to the songs on the original Lullabys, Legends, and Lies, but it’s great for those whose appetites are whetted by disc one.
*Everybody’s Brother and Storyteller: Live at the Bluebird by Billy Joe Shaver. Everybody’s Brother, produced by Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, is Shaver’s big guest-star album, featuring spots by Kris Kristofferson, John Anderson, Marty Stuart, Native American singer Bill Miller, and even a duet with the producer’s late pappy.
Perhaps it’s a calculated shot to win a wider and more mainstream audience for the 68-year-old singer. If so, more power to him. Not a crumb of Shaver’s roadhouse honky-tonk integrity has been sacrificed.
The songs here — mostof them original religious tunes — are as strong as ever. Shaver preaches, but he never sounds pious. The spiritual truths he tries to impart sound hard won. And he’s very capable of devilish humor. “If you don’t love Jesus, go to hell,” goes the refrain of one song.
As for the just-released 1992 live album, it’s an acoustic performance with Shaver’s late son, Eddie. Most of Billy Joe’s greatest hits are here: “Old Chunk of Coal,” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” and “Black Rose.” But personally, I enjoy Billy Joe best with a full band. Do yourself a favor and seek out Unshaven: Live at Smith’s Olde Bar, a 1995 CD (with Eddie on electric guitar) that includes most of the songs on the Bluebird album.
*Compadres: An Anthology of Duets by Marty Stuart. Marty is the kind of guy you’d want to have on just about any country record you’d want to make. He’s a good singer, an excellent instrumentalist, and, in general, has impeccable tastes.
Here he shares songs with other country singers — Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Earl Scruggs, and Steve Earle. And there are a few tunes from the realms of blues and soul sung with B.B. King, the Staple Singers, and Mavis Staples on her own.
Most of these have been released before, though previously unavailable songs include Loretta Lynn’s powerful prison tune “Will You Visit Me on Sunday” and the Old Crow Medicine Show’s crazy bluegrassy rendition of The Who’s “I Can See For Miles.”
One real treat is a 1974 recording of a teenage Stuart playing a mandolin solo with his mentor Lester Flatt. Marty flies on the old Bill Monroe instrumental “de.” Funny thing is, Stuart seems just as enthusiastic about music now as he did back then.
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