On Valentine’s Day 2008, Bobby Bare, Jr. dispatched an e-mail informing all within virtual earshot that his mother had been hit by a tree two weeks previously while watching television alone in her Hendersonville, TN, home. Considering the source, one would do well to smell a rat, but it was not the case this time. Evidently one of the century-old birch trees girding the Bare property came down in a windstorm, smashing through the roof and landing on his mother, cracking two vertebrae in her neck. The Bare matriarch was forced to phone for help while still trapped under the debris. Fortunately, the story ends with Jeannie Bare making a full recovery.
The best writers, it has long been said, write what they know. As such, the experience has provided Mrs. Bare’s favorite son with both the title and a song for his first full-length since 2006’s The Longest Meow. Even without his mother falling prey to the vagaries of gravity, the four years that passed since his last full-length have proven fertile fodder for Bare, Jr. A wealth of life experiences and his partnership with fellow new-jack Nashville outsider David Vandervelde are neatly distilled into song on A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head.
Losing a Country Grammy to the Pointer Sisters at the ripe old age of 6, having a surprise hit with his first band, becoming an unlikely benefactor of Korn’s success, and early notoriety with a body of songs all approved by Shel Silverstein before they were released kinda makes Taylor Hicks and Avenged Sevenfold’s image-sculpting seem a little silly, huh? Bare, Jr. is no stranger to absurdity, fostered in part by having Shel Silverstein as both a literal and musical godfather. Eight releases into his career, Silverstein’s scent is all over Bare, Jr.’s work, forcing the average fan to become too comfortable with songs about the real-life relationship between Opie and Liz Taylor which rubs shoulders with tales focused on seeing the Jesus Lizard open for Sonic Youth in 1993 and/or boldfaced contemplations of killing the guy dating his ex. Like Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver and Drive By Truckers’ Mike Cooley, Bare, Jr. has a twisted Rockwellian gift for capturing a scene without overstating it. Having Bobby Bare as a father and growing up with George Jones and Johnny Cash as neighbors probably helps a bit, as well.
Opening with “Your Goat is on Fire,” Bare, Jr. builds on the Silverstein credo that the best songs start where other songwriters are afraid to go. From there it’s the average trip down the Bare, Jr. rabbit hole with Vandervelde returning to co-pilot. Recorded over two days in a Nashville log cabin with 3/5 of My Morning Jacket as the band’s core, A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head juxtaposes songs about Jesus’ lost sandals and Atlantan Halloween parties with naked declarations of love from flawed protagonists cut from a Randy Newman cloth.
Looking past the Silverstein-esque end-rhymes in “Liz Taylor’s Lipstick Gun,” it’s songs like “But I Do” and “Sad Smile” which better embody Bare, Jr. than any interview ever could. One surmises the idiosyncrasies Bare, Jr. shares with listeners lose a bit of shine when one’s experiencing them firsthand in a relationship. As a body of songs, though, A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head makes for some of the finest songs collected on one disc this year.Visit: Bobby Bare Jr. | Thirty Tigers
Purchase: Insound | eMusic