“I’m going to speak so differently after I hit The Big Time, because this southern drawl is just dragging me down”
I can’t say that in my life I have attended many shows solo. It’s okay to take in a movie by yourself but going to see a band is certainly more of a communal kind of thing. So it goes to show how much I like Bobby Bare Jr. as there I was in the city for work meetings when I noticed BBJ was playing a bar not too far away from where I was – I knew I couldn’t pass it up. So I paid admission had a couple of beers and was treated to an excellent set. Hell, I even had the chance to chat with Bobby a little bit after the show – I told him I drove in from London – he thought that seemed like a long drive.
Anyway, that was some time ago and I’m pretty excited to see he has a new record coming out on April 15, his first since 2010. Obviously BBJ will always get ink linking him to country royalty because of his famous father, but Bobby’s always been his own artist – and can pen a hook like it’s nobody’s business. One just has to check out the ultra-catchy “I’ll Be Around” or “Valentine” from his earlier records for proof – either of those songs will rumble around in your head for some time.
Sure Bobby is not afraid to display his country influences but his music has always reminded me of a fusion of Wilco and Beck, perhaps with some Replacements thrown in – albeit darker and often with more humour than the others. Add a little street busker and you have Bobby Bare Jr. There were even moments listening to “Undefeated” when I thought to myself – is this is the music John Lennon would be putting out if he was still with us?
As usual BBJ’s studio personnel – The Young Criminals Starvation League, is top notch. Made up of Doni Schroader (formerly of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead) and Van Campbell (Black Diamond Heavies) on drums, Matt Rowland on keys, Carey Kotsionis on background vocals, Richie Kirkpatrick on guitars/bass, David Vandervelde on guitars/bass, Jordan Caress on bass/vocals and Michael “Grimey” Grimes on bass.
With “Undefeated” BBJ doesn’t stray too far from his usual formula, but this time the songwriting sounds more accomplished, more focused, or maybe even more mature. Still, the hooks are everywhere, scattered over the record, popping up in every song, planting themselves deep in the brain. Opener – “North of Alabama By Mornin’” is a bluesy, jangled, strut down to the crossroads. “Blame Everybody (But Yourself)” and “The Big Time” have the signature BBJ catchy happy horn or guitar and vocal worm and both of them have been stuck in my head for days now.
Bobby can break out the love too and he does with – “The Elegant Imposter”, “Don’t Wanna Know” and the title track “Undefeated” with its 50s doo-wop feel and fantastic guitar solo. “If She Cared” with Kotsionis’ on backing vocals (maybe my favourite track) – is brimming with Westerberg sweetness. “My Baby Took My Baby Away” co-written with Texas troubadour – Hayes Carll, is a ragtime, countrified “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” and “As Forever Became Never Again” wouldn’t sound out of place on the Beatles White Album. Rocker – “Don’t Stand At The Stove” brings the album to a close with a cacophony of distorted guitars and Deep Purple-ish organ.
So there you have it. Once again BBJ puts out a consistently solid record, thankfully not forsaking his southern drawl but perfectly blending his pedigree and influences. Let’s hope this time he reaches The Big Time.
Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins