As poet William Carlos Williams observed in “To Elise,” “The pure products of America go crazy.” This statement rings all too true when considering the latest from Bobby Bare Jr. Son of a country music legend, he’s carried archetypal American baggage with him since his debut. But rather than sift through honky-tonk sawdust for musical fodder, Bare chooses to explore a broader palette of American music and ethos. Indeed, this album finds him cutting a more ambitious piece from the proverbial apple pie, with jaw-dropping results.
In the first lines of “Strange Bird,” the disc’s opening track, he echoes Williams’ ode when describing his own all-American love: “She is a wild girl / but that’s alright because she’s living in a wild world.” And a wild world it is, populated by junkies, naked Yee Haw honeys and disenfranchised lovers. But as impressive as his lyrics can be, with their tapestry of heartrending bumper-sticker pleas (“Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost”) and dog’s eye views of romance (“Your Adorable Beast”), the stylistic paella he mixes up is even more mind-blowing. “Valentine” marries driving roots rock with Stax horn bluster, while “Let’s Rock & Roll” undermines its title with a gently ambling jangle that collapses into chaos. But it’s on “Visit Me in Music City,” that Bare delivers his most dexterous trick. Against a Ray-Charles-does-Country setting, he unsheathes a double-edged tribute to his own legacy—at once loving and bitterly cynical.
For Bare, Nashville is a place where “The world’s greatest living guitar pickers / Can deliver you a pizza or sell you weed.” Where the promises of the American dream are as hideous as they are glorious. And so it is with the whole of this truly American record: it is only as beautiful as its ugliest aspect, which itself is pitifully gorgeous. So while this pure product of America may not be the prettiest album you’ll hear this year, it surely is one of the most brilliant.