When GRAMMY-winning country star Bobby Bare retired from recording in the 1980s, the reasons were as complex as the business he had been married to for 25 years. His welcome, if surprising, return in 2005 was motivated by something much simpler.
“Bobby Jr. was really pumped over doing this,” says Bare in his matter-of-fact drawl. “He was the driving force behind it.” Yes, he’s talking about his son—the son whose five-year-old voice helped make the Shel Silverstein confection “Daddy What If” a left-field hit in 1973—and the artist widely known to the indie rock world as Bobby Bare Jr’s Young Criminals Starvation League., a musical iconoclast who has more in common with his father than their surface sounds would suggest. Bobby Jr., working with his trusted friend, producer/engineer Mark Nevers (Lambchop), was able to do what no Nashville record label has been able to do in two decades – coax a great voice and a legendary song hound back onto disc.
The album, The Moon Was Blue, crafted by an artist-producer relationship unlike any in Nashville history, sounds unprecedented as well. Because while its superstructure is forged of classic songs by old Bare compadres like Wayne Walker and Allen Reynolds, its decorative exterior displays Bare Jr. and Nevers playing with textures and juxtaposing styles the way they did on Bare’s recent Young Criminals’ Starvation League album. Bobby Jr. calls it embracing Nashville with one arm while molesting it with the other. Bobby Sr. says the ornate background vocals and loopy space noise overdubs just make him smile, and that’s good enough for him.
Thus The Moon Was Blue should prove a thirst quencher for those who’ve long loved Bare’s worldly baritone and mastery of a song. At the same time, it will be an invitation to the Bare Jr. generation to discover an artist whom veteran music writer Chet Flippo recently called one of the most overlooked and underrated in country music history. Bare was a singer capable of sophisticated hits like “Detroit City” or “How I Got To Memphis” and the subversive humor of “Drop Kick Me Jesus.” He befriended and championed the finest songwriters to ever shake up Nashville, including Kris Kristofferson and Tom T. Hall. He was among the first Nashville country artists to embrace Bob Dylan. And he pioneered ideas like the concept album, dodging the Nashville rules to bring a whole record of Shel Silverstein songs to life in the classics Lullabys, Legends & Lies. Often tagged an “outlaw” in the Waylon and Willie camp, Bare’s discography actually transcends categories with a boldly eclectic embrace of American music.
“For me it’s like show and tell,” says Bobby Jr. “Because most everybody who’s bought my records have no idea what my dad does or who he is. So I’m going to let the old man coat-tail on me!”
That truth within that joke was only made possible by virtue of Bobby Sr.’s prolonged absence from the record bins and the magazines, for if he’d remained in focus like John Prine or Billy Joe Shaver, he’d be an Americana hero too. But Bare’s only album appearance since the mid 1980s was the 1998’s Old Dogs, which featured Bare sculpting more Shel Silverstein songs with Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed and Mel Tillis. It was a well-regarded labor of love, but it was a reunion, not a unique statement by a single artist. Now we have one, and it meets the standard both Bares set for themselves in anything they release, which is that it says something that hasn’t been said before.
Bare was born in Ohio and spent his teens in California, and he played music from the time he made his first guitar out of a coffee can and screen door wire. Back in Ohio in 1958, he helped his friend Bill Parsons make a demo, and with twenty minutes of spare time at the end of the session, Bare asked to cut one of his own songs, a sort of talking blues called “The All American Boy.” The record, under Parsons’ name, became a smash. But Bare was fine with that. Once out of the Army, he returned to California where he wrote and sang his way on to American Bandstand and tours with Roy Orbison and Bobby Darin.
Friendship with Harlan Howard brought him to Nashville and Chet Atkins signed him to RCA, where he launched a career quite unlike any other. He scored hits with unusually intelligent songs. He became perhaps the first major label artist in Nashville permitted to produce his own albums. And he made early concept albums, including an all-Silverstein opus called Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends & Lies, an outlaw classic. When Nashville went disco and pop in the late 70s/early 80s and labels began pressuring Bare to simply repeat himself, he turned away from the mic and toward his fishing poles.
Until today. And in some important ways, The Moon Was Blue lets Bare work in the same soundscapes and forms he did when he stepped away from the business. Some will hear late 60s and early 70s countrypolitan in the cooing background vocals of Max Barnes’ “I Am An Island” or the waltz time of “My Heart Cries For You,” a Percy Faith song cut by Elvis, Charlie Rich and Dean Martin. But there’s a forward-looking freshness to the way each of these jewels is set. And the re-working of the timeless “Everybody’s Talking At Me” is a tour de force of production, mingling eras and textures with an assured hand.
The album’s title comes from Track Four, “Yesterday When I Was Young,” which Bare Sr. calls one of the finest songs ever. Written in the 60s by Frenchman Charles Aznavour and translated by lyricist Herbert Kretzmer, Yesterday became country hit years ago for Roy Clark (he also sang it at Mickey Mantle’s funeral). It looks back with longing and regret at lost opportunities to live more fully and selflessly.
“He knew if he did just another Music Row album it would mean nothing,” says Bobby Jr. “And once we got our way of putting our strange harmonies and our weird space noises on it, he just sat and listened and laughed. And just thought it was fantastic. He really gets it now. It’s just a really cool thing to share with my dad. We got him in front of a mic. I was the one who got the record deal for him. It’s nice to give back.”
9/23/2007 6:53:56 AM
I'm glad I found you on here...I use to live across the road from your son on Lithopilis Road in Lancaster, Ohio. You all use to fish in my pond and visit for a while. I hope things are well..I'm livin' in Florida now but. I'm movin' back north soon. I'd love to get with you sometime. Have a great weekend,
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