Bobby Bare Jr. (vocals, guitar)
Tracy Hackney (dulcimer)
Dean Tomasek (bass)
Keith Brogdon (drums)
Bare Jr. rocks like a caged animal. That’s the first thing. They may be from Nashville but don’t go looking for twang. And the frizzy character up front may be second-generation country royalty, but this is not your father’s Oldsmobile. The smooth, 60’s, countrypolitan croon of the dad has been supplanted by the raw-throated millennial howl of the son. It’s a new day.
True, not many rock bands emply a full-time dulcimer player, but Bare Jr. chimes those down-home strings across a howitzer-cannon-roar of guitars more akin to Korn’s field than a cornfield. All the same, as their second full-length release Brainwasher will attest, Bare Jr. is instantly southern, instantly rock and absolutely nothing like “southern rock” at all. With a new and brilliant cavalcade of songs from Bare’s pen, Bare Jr. wails from a modern post-irony world where all love is unrequited, jobs are irrelevant, slackers are the voice of reason and the mere fact that life is dire and desperate is no excuse for taking it too seriously.
Produced by Sean Slade (Hole, Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo), Brainwasher tightens up the sheer sonic assault that was ’98’s full-length debut Boo-Tay. Little touches of piano and jangle color the edges of the hard-rock battering ram. The chord work is sharper, like the best Cheap Trick and Soul Asylum. Bobby’s take on the band’s chemistry with the man behind the knobs is pretty simple: “When I talked to Sean about the songs, he got it for all the right reasons. He was open to anything, very positive and has no ego to clash with. He’s really a jolly fellow to work with, and I work best in those situations.”
The record isn’t afraid to laugh at itself from the get-go, starting off with the completely uncharacteristic weepy strings of “Overture: Love Theme from Brainwasher.” “I just wanted to get something perverted and stupid as an intro to show the ridiculousness of what’s to follow; to set a ridiculous theme of drama,” Bobby explains. “Most everything I’ve written is about pretty heavy subjects. At one time, I wanted to die for a girl. I would’ve taken a bullet for her, but now I don’t even know where she lives. It made me realize that it’s the same absurdity all of us have felt at one time or another.”
But drama in the hands of Bobby Bare, Jr. always takes some pretty absurd turns. “‘Limpin’ came about when I wrote a completely abstract song that I only knew the words and what they meant. My computer has voice-recognition; if you train it, it understands every word you say. If you don’t train it,it randomly grabs syllables and turns them into the wrong words. Every time somebody from the band would think they knew what the words meant, it was always ten times more interesting than what I was actually saying.”
Brainwasher is a righteous wrestling match of romance and pathos. The couch potato anthem “Why Do I Need A Job?”proposes “I don’t have a clue what I want to do/Maybe I could invent something cool/Or I could do time/For committing a crime/And sue for a million or two/So why do I need a job?” “If You Choose Me” eavesdrops on a neurotic Romeo’s desperate plea under his Juliet’s window: “In front of your friends I’ll kiss your ass/I’ll leave behind my violent past/If you choose me/over him.” Bobby Jr.’s still singing about the same girl that turned him on in 1998’s “You Blew Me Off” and he hasn’t gotten her yet. As long as it fuels his shredded-heart voice that always sounds like he’s about to break down and cry at any second, let’s hope he never gets her. That heartbroken, cathartic howl is central to the band’s appeal. No matter how threatening the guitars get (listen for the recurring, nasty bent-string “Iron Man’ intro riff that comes and goes throughout the record), Bare commands the instruments with his voice, never the other way around. He’s one of the best desperate howlers in rock and roll today.
Having already proven themselves on the road with the likes of the Black Crowes, Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, Jason & the Scorchers, and Bob Dylan, as well as a scorchin’ set at last year’s Farm Aid, Bare Jr. are gearing up for another road season. “We get as good, if not better, a response from the live show as we do from the CD. People are surprised at how much heavier we are. The intensity is different than most people would expect,” Bobby says. “There are words to the songs that everybody understands and everybody sings along to. It’s like going to a Beastie Boys show, where everybody knows the words, except without the rap.”
On stage, as on record, Bare Jr. rocks like a caged animal. That’s the first thing. That’s always the first thing. If it doesn’t rock, what’s the point?