Both Bobby Bare Jr. and his music seem remarkably unencumbered for somebody with as much history as he has in this town. For starters, he carries the name and likeness of his '60s and '70s progressive country star dad, with whom he famously dueted on a sentimental father-son number in 1973. That performance not only made him a very young Grammy nominee but supplied his less sentimental friends with something to rib him about during his college days at Belmont.
Bare is still remembered for a band he lent his name to — the Bare Jr. half of it, anyway — after his college days. A grungy roots rock band that made waves playing Exit/In, Bare Jr. didn't get much of anywhere commercially, even with two major-label albums. (Incidentally, that band featured a pre-entrepreneurial Mike Grimes on guitar. As Bare says from the road, "If Grimey [hadn't] end[ed] up not playing with Bare Jr., there may not have ever been a Grimey's Record Store, a Slow Bar or a Basement.")
Memories of the band apparently persist well outside of Nashville, too. Bare expresses genuine amazement that a pristine copy of the band's out-of-print 2000 album Brainwasher is currently listed for $60 on Amazon: "That's funny. We didn't sell 3,000 of those." But he seems pretty at ease with that legacy. "It's weird how many people request Bare Jr. songs every single night," he says. "That was 12 years ago. I'll play 'You Blew Me Off,' or I'll do an acoustic version of 'Nothin' Better to Do.' "
Bare's been doing his own thing the past eight years, making indie albums stocked with twistedly witty and wrenchingly self-deprecating songs, none better than his latest variegated set, A Storm — A Tree — My Mother's Head. "Liz Taylor's Lipstick Gun," a detailed yet off-the-wall story-song, is on there. "I just don't think many people knew that Opie Taylor was Liz Taylor's son," Bare says, with the same deadpan delivery he employs throughout the song. "I think everybody should know about that."
Then there's "But I Do," a fractured and fresh consideration of getting tugged between love and weakness that he co-wrote with his dad, each contributor coming from decidedly different places as songwriters. "He's always right," says the younger Bare of the elder. Given Bare Jr.'s proclivity toward wry answers, it's hard to tell in the moment if he really means that his dad only thinks he's always right. "No, he actually is," Bare says by way of clarification. "It's good to have somebody like that in the room. Even as hard as I resist — and I'll fight him on stuff — in the end he's right. And he's really courageous, too."
To top it all off, the album's title track is a dark and skewed ballad about the stormy night his mother nearly met her end alone in the Hendersonville home where he grew up. It's the sort of troubling family tale few songwriters would want to tackle; Bare, on the other hand, even convinced his mom to come to the recording session and shriek theatrically on the track, a lot like she must've when the tree fell. Of his nothing's-off-limits approach to songwriting, he says, "When you get to that place where most people would back down and chicken out, that's right where it's most important to keep going with it, whatever it is."
It's harder to imagine his dad wanting to take part in the writing of a dramatic, indiefied vignette like "A Storm — A Tree — My Mother's Head." And he didn't — Bare wrote that one on his own. But it's the kind of thing that would've been right up the alley of his dad's late friend and collaborator (and Bare's own mentor of a sort), poet-songwriter Shel Silvertstein, whose surreal sensibilities are the most obvious intergenerational touchstone for Bare's music. (It was a performance of Silverstein's "Daddy What If" that earned the two Bares their Grammy nomination.)
Together, father and son recently produced Twistable Turnable Man, a multi-artist tribute to Silverstein's songwriting, and the son — who, of the two, has the greater number of indie musician friends by far — took the lead in lining up acts like Dr. Dog, Black Francis and My Morning Jacket. Most people below the age of 40 who dig My Morning Jacket's music — and, for that matter, Bare's — wouldn't know his dad's music to compare it to, since he long ago retired from making albums. The exception is 2005's indie countrypolitan album The Moon Was Blue, on which Bare — serving as producer — surrounded his dad with members of Lambchop, Andrew Bird and the like to introduce his still-worthy voice to a new audience. On some recording projects and co-writes Bare shuttles between musical and generational worlds, but it's clear he also has a scene of his own.
And that's the source of the colorful, raw-nerved rock and thoroughly postmodern country sounds on his new album. Along with co-producer David Vandervelde, three of the guys from MMJ — steel guitarist Carl Broemel, drummer Patrick Hallahan and bassist Tom Blankenship — are key players. "Yeah, the band really, really liked working on these arrangements, and co-writing," Bare says. "They co-wrote a lot of the record with me. ... I guess this kinda is their music, too. [We like to see] just how far we can push it."
Nice guy but they only work well with their already high sellers. We had a…
well fuck you anon! Go and Catch fire!
The guitar is a custom made Gretsch he used on the Raconteurs tours...sweet. I couldn't…
I knew him before the beard.
Sometimes I think snowman69 makes good points. But I think he's way off the mark…