Friday, October 13, 2006

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: THE RISE OF BABY BARE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 13, 2006


Bobby Bare Jr. started his recording career at a very early age. Try 5 years old. It was back in 1973 when, as a squeaky-voiced ankle-biter, he co-starred with his father on a sweet but sappy Shel Silverstein song called “Daddy What If.”

“Daddy, what if the sun stopped shining?/What would happen then?” baby Bare chirped. It wasn’t the greatest moment for Papa Bare, who was a beloved country hitmaker in the ’60s and ’70s.

The kid grew up, as kids tend to do. Last year he reunited with his dad in the studio to produce and sing on Bare Sr.’s “comeback” album, The Moon Was Blue.

Since the late ’90s, Bare Jr.’s been playing an unusual style of rock ’n’ roll that draws from his country-music heritage but — even with his unabashed drawl — doesn’t sound like your typical country rock.

His latest album, The Longest Meow, was released under the name of Bobby Bare Jr.’s Young Criminals Starvation League and was recorded in a heady, 11-hour session with members of My Morning Jacket, ... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, and others. It might just be his most eclectic, eccentric, and experimental album so far.

From the hard-charging, baritone-sax-and-guitar-driven “The Heart Bionic” through the Devo-drenched “Sticky Chemical,” this Meow is a sonic pleasure. And no, he hasn’t forgotten his country roots. “Back to Blue” has “Ring of Fire” mariachi trumpets and a steel guitar that suggests warm desert nights.

There’s an acoustic cover of the Pixies song “Where Is my Mind.” This seems appropriate since young Bobby played on the last Frank Black album. It’s not hard to imagine Frank Black Francis doing any of Bare’s songs from The Longest Meow.

One of my favorites here is “Gun Show,” which starts off with Bare crooning a Wilco-ish melody backed by acoustic guitar and a Lost-in-Space electronic whine. It’s about a guy who’s shot down at his home under circumstances that are never quite clear. Bare moans: “Mama’s gonna find a place to hide/And my girls are gonna wonder why/Why did my daddy have to die/And does he hear us when we cry?”

Then there’s “Demon Valley” and that steel guitar again. It’s a wistful, Beatlesque little tune with nonsensical lyrics such as “I found a place for you to hide/where you can be the devil’s bride.” There’s even a shout out to Sonny and Cher in the song.

Also recommended:

*Snake Farm by Ray Wylie Hubbard. “Snake farm, it just sounds nasty,” Hubbard spits in the chorus of the title song of his latest album. “Snake farm, pretty much is.”

That could pretty much serve as a review for this album. It sounds nasty, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Co-produced by Hubbard and Gurf Morlix, this is a bluesy stomp-dance of a record, heavy on slide guitar and raunchy licks (thank you, Gurf). With Hubbard’s songs of reptile ranches, God, the devil, heartaches, damnation, and redemption, it’s almost like the Book of Revelation as interpreted by Hank Williams and Howlin’ Wolf.

“God smiles and lights a cigarette/And says there’s some souls I ain’t gonna get/I’d take all the little critters if I could/But some are too smart for their own damn good,” he sings in “Kilowatts.”

That’s how he does with the spiritual realm. He’s also got a good take on the material world. “Young pups, they ask me what makes my kind/shameless women and pork rinds ... There’s no sadder case of desire and anguish/I’m done in by women, hush puppies and catfish,” he growls on “Heartaches and Grease.”

Hubbard, a founding father of the Austin Cosmic Cowboy scene of the mid ’70s (I was going to try to write this without mentioning his “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”), is one of those rare artists who truly has gotten better with age. For the past few years, every album has been stronger than the last. More pork rinds, please!


* Nashville Rebel by Waylon Jennings. This four-disc collection starts out with a recording from New Mexico — Clovis, to be exact, home of Norman Petty Studios. There in 1958 Buddy Holly produced the first single by Jennings, his West Texas protégé. It was “Jole Blon,” the Cajun anthem, featuring none other than R&B shaman King Curtis on saxophone. It didn’t become a hit, at least not on the Holly level. But what a harbinger it was for things to come.

It took nearly 15 years, but the dark-eyed singer from Littlefield, Texas, along with co-conspirator Willie Nelson, led the great outlaw rebellion of the 1970s — which basically meant they got a whole lot more creative control over their records than Nashville traditionally allowed artists. That, and they did a lot of dope.

Waylon wasn’t known for his songwriting. Most of the songs he’s best known for — “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” “Dreaming My Dreams With You” — were written by others. No, it was his voice, his “monster voice” as Rolling Stone once dubbed it — deep, rugged and earthy — that made his records so memorable.

This collection runs from the ’50s and (just barely) into the ’90s, wisely concentrating on the outlaw heyday of the early-to-mid ’70s. It leaves out a few jewels from Waylon’s final years, though fortunately it includes “I Do Believe,” a stunning little piece of humanist gospel he recorded on the last album by outlaw supergroup The Highwaymen.

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