Bobby Bare - Darker Than Light

Plowboy Records

A smart old cookie, Bobby Bare makes a welcome return to the recording studio for the first time in seven years with the aptly titled DARKER THAN LIGHT. The album showcases traditional-styled originals like I Was A Young Man Once along with meaningful covers from Woody Guthrie, Dennis Linde, Bob Dylan, and even U2, alongside re-workings of traditional folk and blues tunes. But whatever the sources, Bare and his gathering of stellar guest musicians stamp them with his own indelible and instantly recognisable signature. Listening to these songs is like attending a master class on storytelling, as Bare weaves tales that are visceral, insightful and often humorous. Lyrically, the album provides stories of life, loss, lonesomeness and death. Somebody needs to assert opposition to the creepy cool world of Bobby Bare.

Bare’s deep, wise voice is a perfect partner for such well-known classics as Merle Travis’ Dark As A Dungeon, or the age-old tale of Boll Weevil. I could’ve sworn that the late Dennis Linde’s Lookout Mountain, was an old, old song; certainly not one written in the past 30 years. Linde, one of my favourite Nashville songwriters, had captured an American Civil War battle perfectly, keeping the listener hooked from beginning to end and Bare’s laconic vocal is just right.

Complemented by simple instrumentation that is smartly focused on tight acoustic and electric guitar interplay, ethereal vocal back-up by the Whites and an easy-paced backbeat, he turns in a superb version of The Bank Of The Ohio. Jimmie Driftwood’s Tennessee Stud is yet another familiar song perfectly suited to Bare’s deep drawling vocal. Again the Whites add distinctive vocal backup to a rumbling bass line, a deep-twang guitar and a galloping rhythm.

Mention should be made of the classy musicians who assist Bare in making this album rather special. Amongst the guitarists you’ll hear Randy Scruggs, Wes L’Anglois, Eddie Pennington and Buddy Miller; the solid rhythm is provided by Byron House (upright bass), Brad Albin (electric bass) and drummer Marco Giovino with extra colouring from Glen Duncan (fiddle, mandolin, banjo), Jonathan Yudkin (mandolin, fiddle) and Andy Leftwich (mandolin, fiddle). Vince Gill and Alejandro Escovedo provide additional background vocals.

The thing is, these songs don’t cede to the increased production demands. The guitars, stringed instruments, and background vocals simply make these traditional-slanted songs more urgent, more vital and more necessary, but not one bit less permanent. The whole album exposes and embraces reflection, resolve and a lifestyle that’s true to self. The album is Bobby Bare’s homecoming—a rekindling of his creative flame and a roaring reminder of his rock-infused country roots.