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Bobby Bare Jr album

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.

Bobby Bare, Junior (photo credit:  JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS)
Bobby Bare, Junior (photo credit: JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS)

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.

Bobby Bare, Junior (photo credit: JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS)
Bobby Bare, Junior (photo credit: JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS)

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!



Macedo Paper Doll

Twin sisters Michelle and Melissa Macedo have released a 6-song EP that aches of sincerity and hours spent contemplating life and love, something that hardly makes them unique. What DOES is that their tunes are growers, plaintive ballads and unpredictable rockers that insinuate themselves gradually into your psyche. PAPER DOLL follows a couple of previous releases the Pasadena, CA sisters put together (including 2011’s FLAGS AND BOXES), and seems intent on neatly encapsulating their strengths for a slowly growing audience, those strengths being dual vocals that are similar but which create a pleasing tension throughout, strong lyrics that reflect a high degree of emotional authenticity, and mostly sterling arrangements that feature piano, organ and violin in a swirl of energy that is pulled towards art song in one direction and Alanis Morissette-type love snarls in another. There’s something very familiar about the Macedo sound, and I swear this is the last time I’ll EVER mention the Indigo Girls in a review of ANYTHING, just on general principle, but the EP’s first couple of songs do bring that group to mind actually bettering them in many ways. These tunes manage to NOT be self-indulgent, something the Indigos were convicted of long ago, and if a few Alanis-y moments draw attention to themselves, well, that’s okay. Everyone’s gotta sound a little like someone else, right? Vocals are upfront throughout and the piano is mixed with sparkling clarity. So the verses tend to stand out: “Do you remember when we found that fortune teller/You thought they for sure knew me better/There is only time that’s taken/There’s only time that takes,” the girls sing, seemingly sharing a private conversation that we get to be in on, and we want to know more. There are effective pauses here and there, which shows that either the Macedos or their producer is paying attention to arrangement and overall flow. It’s nice stuff.

Macedo (photo credit: SHANNON M WEST)
Macedo (photo credit: SHANNON M WEST)

Your Skin Brims” gets its Alanis on rather overtly, although the tempo shifts are unexpected. And the demands of the lyrics are more subtle: “Remember when we talked about the warning signs?” goes one refrain, and the whole song appears to be about a relationship that is in trouble, trying to figure out where the blame lies. As the music surges with organic intensity, our protagonist starts damning things in the lyrics: “Damn, I’m a cynic/Damn, I’m about to kiss my worst critic,” a Macedo gal intones, a great lyric that serves up a whole platterful of angst truly universal and easy to empathize with. By this time, they’ve pretty much GOT you, these girls; whatever might be missing in originality is certainly THERE in focused self-awareness, always important on introspective platters such as this. So the final track, “Amazing,” just SLAYS. It’s a potent composition which makes quite a convincing case for Macedo as an act to be reckoned with. I’m guessing it’s Melissa on lead vocal, telling us in an effectively nasally voice something that positively hurts to hear: “Amazing always, no one can stay that way/But will you still love me when I fade away/There’s a child inside me/Who functions out of fear/Though you shouldn’t come closer/You should still stay here.” Having been in relationships where this kind of sentiment would’ve been a welcome burst of honesty, I felt chills listening to the song. The piano is stark and lovely, the violin comes in just at the right time to create haunting musical devastation, and there’s some background organ that only serves to heighten this song’s contention for “classic” status. It’s the kind of tune that you just KNOW would hold a crowd at rapt attention in some tiny little lounge lucky enough to have Macedo on the bill that night. “I’m amazing next to you, it’s true/Just your presence pulls me through/And inspires my desires/When you’re gone, my heart breaks on and on and on,” the girls sing, with an understated power that few could possibly resist. There is something truly authentic about Macedo that a whole slew of other similar acts could only hope to achieve. Whether it’s the sisterly bond placed front and center, the sometimes tart vocals that make almost every word clearly audible, or the clean keyboard-driven arrangements, these six songs have a cumulative effect that is hard to shake. PAPER DOLL is not thin or passive in any way; it’s the work of two women who are living, breathing advocates for speaking up, facing the contradictions and anguish of true love with honesty and self-respect, and setting it all to musical compositions worthy of any attentive listener’s attention. I can’t shrug this one off, and that’s a compliment, folks.