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Bobby Bare shines on "The Moon Was Blue”

By Dan MacIntosh, November 2005

He's the same guy, after all, that detailed the harsh economic realities of this country's Northern migration with a hit recording of Mel Tillis and Danny Dill's "Detroit City." Furthermore, his career accomplishments include such treasures as the "Bobby Bare Sings Lullabies, Legends and Lies" album, considered one of the first country music concept albums.

The "Lullabies" CD is a full double album of Shel Silverstein songs, and this project's laser-like focus on one great songwriter's repertoire underscores Bare's unabashed appreciation of the songwriting craft.

Back in the 80s, Bare even hosted a program all about songwriters on the old TNN channel. This was wonderful TV because it took an inside look at the faces behind those names we always read on album credits. It also offered the chance to see and hear songwriters perform works, many of them big hits for bigger stars.

The show also revealed just how much Bare loves and appreciates songwriters. Its focus was never on Bobby Bare, the artist; its spotlight was aimed at the various songwriters, instead. "On that show, the star of the show was the songs," Bare says. "The songs were a major part of people's lives. They can take you back to a certain time, any time. If a song is not great, no matter what you do to it, it's still not going to be great. You can't make somebody like something that is not a hit. Songs are the most important thing. It's hard to get that (truth) past the star's ego, though. But actually, they're second. They're not 'it.' I've always loved songwriters.

In fact, it's Bare's deep love of songs that sometimes gives him trouble with much of today's country music.

"I don't agree with the songs new country radio plays a lot of times," he says. "There's a lot of great songs that come by, but I don't have the patience to sit through a lot of the bubblegum stuff that's directed at younger people. Tim McGraw comes up with some great songs. Garth Brooks, when he was working with Allen Reynolds, came up with some really great songs, like 'The Dance' and songs like that. Those are great songs. But there's not enough of 'em to suit my taste.

Not surprisingly, Bare reaches for the older stuff whenever he's in the mood to sit down and listen to music. "I listen to classic country because you hear a lot of great songs," he says.

That vocal drawl of his makes Bare come off as country as it gets. Nevertheless, he's always been adventurous in choosing the songs he records. Such openness certainly came into play with "The Moon Was Blue" (Dualtone).

Bare applies his low and authoritative voice here to crooner laments like "Yesterday When I Was Young" and "All in the Game." There is a pedal steel undercurrent running through "I Am an Island," and "Everybody's Talkin' at Me" may have a touch of twang to it, but what's the deal with "Love Letters in the Sand," a pop hit for Pat Boone of all people! Oddest of all is clearly the closer, "Fellow Traveler." This track features a polka-like backing band and a children's choir. It also has a cinematic, movie ending credits feel to it, which lingers on the mind long after the song fades out.

The disc was co-produced by his son, Bobby Bare, Jr., along with Lambchop's Mark Nevers. The album features a lot of the unlikely instrumentation we've come to expect from Lambchop-related projects, but it's not at all what you'd call a jarring aural experience.

Instead, this CD is mostly a lush collection of ballads, spiced by a few quirky elements thrown into the mix. Its quirkiness shouldn't surprise you, however. Remember that this same man recorded "Shame on You," one of the first Nashville-made hit records to feature horns.

"I just told Bobby, Jr, 'Keep me out of the music part of it,'" Bare explains. "'I'm just going to sing the songs and let you guys take it and run with it. If I put myself into it, you're gonna wind up with just one more country record that nobody really cares about anymore.'"

Bare is convinced that Bare, Jr. and Nevers enjoyed this experience of working on this album. "They loved it," he notes. "They did some weird stuff in there. It puts a smile on my face because it (the weird stuff) doesn't bother me."

The CD opens with one called "Are You Sincere," which finds Bare's still-strong voice gliding over tinkling piano bar keyboards, sparring with sugar sweetened backing vocals and colored by countrypolitan strings. Its song lyric reveals suspicion about a lover's honesty and loyalty. But there's never any questioning of Bare's sincerity and dedication to his craft. In the hands of lesser artists, songs like "Yesterday When I Was Young" have many times come off overly maudlin. But Bare injects everything he touches with an understated transparency and warmth.

Bare, 70, can well relate to the sentiments about aging expressed in "Yesterday When I Was Young." But while this song is mainly focused on regrets, one imagines Bare doesn't have too many memories as troubling as these. He's been married to the same woman, Jeannie, since 1964; his son, Bobby Bare, Jr., is a successful alternative music artist, and his favorite pastimes these days are fishing and playing with the grandchildren.

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