(BLOODSHOT RECORDS; 2014)
Where do you go after releasing an immaculately imperfect debut like BOO-TAY (featuring the elegantly titled single, “You Blew Me Off”)? Well, if you’re Bobby Bare, Junior (son of legendary Country Music Hall of Famer… wait for it… Tommy Overstreet! Uh… I mean, Bobby Bare), you break up the old band (Bare Junior, natch!), form a new band (the Young Criminals’ Starvation League) and sign with insurgent Americana label, Bloodshot Records. Now, sixteen years after his first release (not counting the duet he did with his Dad when he was only a lad) and with that famous wit and sarcasm still intact, Bare the younger has released UNDEFEATED, a lyrically gritty look at a failed relationship (examined more closely in the documentary, DON’T FOLLOW ME (I’M LOST)); musically, the record is all over the place, just like the previous six full-lengths. It’s also a study in economy: Ten songs in less than 40 minutes.
“North of Alabama By Mornin’” opens with a frenzied blast of feedback before settling in with a really cool organ signature. The tune matures into a funky, snaking groove featuring deep-in-the-mix, slightly processed, semi-maniacally ranting vocals. A nice, country-tinged hate ballad follows. “If She Cared” is highlighted by some very nice vocals (lead and backing) over a pretty piano and a lilting bass line. The ultimate “get even” song, “The Big Time,” has a sort of Mexicali feel, complete with mariachi horns and great, sarcastic lyrics: “You’re gonna miss me after I hit the big time/You won’t see me ’round here no more/Gonna get brand new, famous friends.” With a bass line reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s “Halo of Flies,” “Don’t Wanna Know” sounds like a psychedelicized Hoyt Axton tune. The guitars are all over the place, with a solo that goes from a weird twangy thing to a fuzzy freak-out. The vocal melody is one of the best that I’ve heard in a long while; the backing vocals definitely fall into the classic country music sound.
“The Elegant Imposter” is a minor key country waltz about a former lover (wife?) growing, changing and, ultimately, leaving her partner behind. The album’s title track sounds like an extension – or, more apt, the flip side – of the last song. Despite its name, this is much more of a lonesome, country “tear in my beer” tune which is, inexplicably, highlighted by an awesome tremolo-drenched solo. In a lyrical swerve worthy of the Jim Stafford hit, “My Girl, Bill,” “My Baby Took My Baby Away” is not about the drunken lout that the first verse has you envisioning. Nope, not at all… the litany of items that would generally have gotten the guy kicked out of the house are readily accepted and even considered cute because… it’s the baby, who is adorable, weaving and falling over, bottle in hand and pantless; “Why am I all wrong/But he’s alright,” indeed. The piano intro to “Blame Everybody (But Yourself)” has the same tempo and ragtimey groove as the previous tune, but quickly morphs into a late ’60s “sunshine pop” thing with horns and bright, cheery backing vocals. Lyrically, it seems to be an answer to the last track: “Stop blaming the kid for your problems. Stop blaming me for your problems. Stop blaming the grocer for your problems.” “As Forever Became Never Again” is another of those Hoyt Axton-sounding rock and roll songs, with a pounding rhythm section, rolling piano and some very cool guitar parts, making it my favorite UNDEFEATED track. Lobbying to dethrone that one for album supremacy is the closing track, “Don’t Stand At the Stove.” This one has everything; it’s a swirling cacophony of sounds and styles, with a percolating rhythm, chunky organ, a scratchy guitar part that turns into a Big Country kinda thing, and hypnotic falsetto vocals.
The press release calls UNDEFEATED a “breakup album” but, Bare, in his inimitable, self-deprecating style, says that it’s actually “more of a getting-dumped record.” Now, I’ve liked his music since the first time I heard it and I really wouldn’t wish misery on anybody, but, if more albums like the dark, depressing, snarky (and beautiful) UNDEFEATED would result from that misery… Well, Bobby, have I got a lady for you!