A Soul Bared
Bobby Bare Jr. is at the end of his leash.
You may want to skip forward for an examination of Bobby Bare Jr’s most complex, engaging, and, coincidentally, recent album to date, From the End of Your Leash. But first, let’s flash back to 1973. At age 5, Bare, Jr. is nominated for a Grammy on the reassuring strength of a duet he sings with his dad, the Shel Silverstein-penned “Daddy What If.” On another Bare-Silverstein classic, “Singin’ in the Kitchen,” Bares Jr. and Sr. extol the value of harmonizing and the joy of acting out. Now that junior is all grown, we have two country singers related by blood and tradition, but as different as Memphis and Nashville.
Unlike his father, Bobby Bare Jr. needed neither to toil on the family farm nor build his first guitar from scratch in order to develop a soul as deep, as rife with that universally accessible suffering typical to country: the white man’s blues. The Bares hold an obvious affinity for Silverstein and that more subtle accessibility in common. Both Bares welcome the listener, but, while Bare Sr. is staid, a good ol’ boy who’ll confidently lend a hand if needs be, Bare Jr. helps by warning: “don’t follow me/because I’m lost,” essentially the only lyrics in a song titled just that...in order to avoid any confusion: the younger Bare hasn’t the vaguest notion of where he’s headed.
Bare Jr. is the neo-Bare, a Bare for our times—angst-ridden, soul-tattered, yet powerful in his “that vomit don’t care where it falls” blankness. Feedback blasts in this song’s center to express the shattering loss lurking behind all good times. The aforementioned “vomit” is culled from “Let’s Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a lucid examination of what lies behind the back slapping his friends use to distract from and cover up that ever-present confusion and desperation.
Father and son also hold senses of humor and adventure in common. While Bare, Sr. (backed by a typical country band) poked fun at a “Redneck Hippie Romance” and screamed as the gypsy swamp voodoo queen, “Marie Leveaux,” Bare Jr. (filled out by Memphis horns and shrill distortion) makes a blank observation of “cocaine, caffeine and queers” and later wryly asks, “brother can I borrow your girlfriend?”
On From the End of Your Leash’s only cover, Silverstein’s ”Things I Didn’t Say,” Bobby laments, “I didn’t say my life don’t mean a thing if you ain’t here.” On the very next tune, he considers the darker side, if he had said those things, he would be little more than an “adorable beast at the end of your leash.” Such complexity runs throughout From the End of Your Leash and the fact that his song of bondage sounds every bit as innovative and well-composed as Silverstein’s classic tune of regret lends equal weight to the forces at battle throughout all of Leash, a bluesy rumination on what it is to be human.
To paraphrase Lightnin’ Hopkins, country is, after all, just the white man’s blues. As young Bobby wheezes the surprisingly sensitive, “I don’t want to be that motherfucker/who can make you so blue you become...me/when the Devil needs help, why does he always call me” on the album’s untitled closer, it becomes clear that he can deliver what his father was unable or did not need to express in spades, building on everything the Bares have done before, and perhaps even on country music’s capacity to deliver catharsis amid the good times.
Bobby Bare Jr. From the End of Your Leash 9.0/10.
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