Bobby Bare Jr. makes his home in Nashville, but his I'm-about-to break-into-a-yodel-or-bust-out-crying vocals distance him from anything else that ever came out of that city. "Gear is cheap, recording time too," Bare cites as the reasons he stays in Music City. "It's not like I have Winona on speed dial or hang out with Shania."
To further distinguish himself from his fellow Nashvillians, Bare is backed by the Young Criminal's Starvation League. An aptly-named group of emaciated looking rockers, YCSL provides a perfect minimalist, punk rock background which it'll bring to Charlotte on Aug. 17.
Despite his rock & roll demeanor, Bare Jr. still has strong country ties. Bare's daddy is the country icon who visited "Detroit City" on the country charts in 1963. A decade later, Bare Sr. returned to the top of the charts with Shel Silverstein's "Marie Laveau," also recorded by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.
Daddy's country ventured into outlaw territory. Bare's country traces are way outside of that genre's laws as well. "Southern music that rocks," is how Bare described his sound last week by phone from his Nashville home. But Bare wants to make sure that he's not lumped into Skynyrd territory. "R.E.M. does Southern rock," he explains, "but they aren't Southern rockers."
Although his lyrics are introspective in the extreme, most of Bare's stuff is presented in blow-your-doors-off rockin' fashion, backed by an electric guitar wire choir. During his first musical incarnation, as eponymous group Bare Jr., he put out a couple of albums in the late 1990s that were mostly hard rock with a Southern accent but also exhibited his exquisite, tortured songs.
Bare's 2002 debut for Chicago's Bloodshot label, Young Criminals Starvation League, set the bar for country-punk so high that many couldn't see it. The 2003 EP OK, I'm Sorry came with a video that revealed the musician as a wounded bear reeling around on his hind legs, bleating out "Valentine," a tortured love song. "Valentine, I killed my Valentine," Bare boasts, and with his I-just-wriggled-out-of-the-straight-jacket demeanor, its easy to believe.
From the End Of your Leash (2004) features "Visit Me in Music City" with the line "the hills are filled with naked Hee-Haw honeys." Bare knows of what he speaks. Nominated for a Grammy in 1973 at the age of five for his duet with dad on "Daddy What If," Bare was offered a gig on Hee-Haw and did a few appearances before his dad decided being a child star would make him crazy. The aforementioned lyric sounds like something the late songwriter/children's book author Shel Silverstein would have written for his dad. But it's Bare's tribute to Silverstein, who helped him as well. "Silverstein would critique my stuff and send it back to me," he says, "Like, 'You got lazy in this line here.'"
You won't find any lazy lines on Bare's latest, The Longest Meow. It's all over the place, moving quickly from one genre to another. "Heart Bionic" is a jangly rocker. "Gun Show" is a weeper that starts as bare bones folk, moves on into Appalachian Americana territory, then erupts into full-blown rock cacophony. "Back to Blue" is a Marty Robbins-style country ballad -- if Robbins sang about cocaine and wrestling on top of dirty clothes with a girl named Moose, and tossed off lines like "If I was a shirt I wouldn't be on nobody's back."
Bloodshot promo boasts that the record was recorded in one 11-hour day. But Bare says that's a bit misleading. "We did 16 days of pre-production." He does like doing it quickly though, because that way you don't hate it before it's done.
The album was recorded in one big room. "Like they used to do in the old days, everybody all together like that." Bare says he likes studio work because he can be creative, but people shouldn't expect studio albums to reflect his live show. "It should be different," he says. "If you wanted to hear it exactly as it was on record, you should stay home and listen to the record."
But if you do that, you'll be cheating yourself. Despite Bare's claim that the best advice his father ever gave him was "get out of the music business," Jr. is one of the best things in it. Dangerous, exciting and unpredictable, Bobby Bare Jr. live is everything you need -- you just don't know it yet.
Bobby Bare Jr. appears at the Visulite on Aug. 17; 9pm; $5; bill includes the Walkmen and the Sammies. www.visulite.com.