Bobby Bare Jr. - Undefeated
Record Label: Bloodshot
Release Date: April 15, 2014
You’ve probably never heard of Bobby Bare Jr. or his father Bobby Bare Sr. and that’s just fine. This isn’t an artist who is hell-bent on charting for Billboard and making videos for CMT. No, Bobby Bare Jr. just wants to play his music and have a damn fine time doing it. Now four decades into a career he was bred into, Bare Jr. has once again rounded up his ever-evolving collective known as the Young Criminals’ Starvation League and crafted Undefeated, arguably one of his strongest albums to date. You see, that’s the thing with Bobby Bare Jr. While armfuls of Nashville artists are spending every ounce of their day crafting the next great single, Bare Jr. is holed up in his Nashville bungalow jamming to his heart's content. In the case of Undefeated, it’s a hootenanny good time.
The disc opens with the breezy haze of the guitar-driven psych jam “North of Alabama By Mornin’,” a misleading if not self-indulgent slice of alcohol-fueled Southern rock. On the warm and intimate “If She Cared,” he channels self-defeat atop a bed of cerebral keys and does so in a manner that’s so effortless and so deftly executed, you wonder why is it that Bare Jr. is still so widely under-the-radar. Drawing on the strength of “If She Cared” is the freewheeling singalong “The Big Time,” a hip-shaking dash of tongue-in-cheek zest that is equal parts brassy, bubbly and bright. Revisiting the same introspection as “If She Cared,” Bare Jr. offers up “Don’t Wanna Know” a simple, if not, gnomic effort that paves the way for the smoky “The Elegant Impostor,” a nocturnal cut that lingers long after the disc grinds to a close.
Side B opens with the slow-burning title track, a kiss-off that borrows heavily from a sturdy steel guitar and a seismic finish that rumbles and shakes with the ferocity of a Texas heatwave. Very much a genre-bender, Bare Jr. wades in a pool of finger-picked folk on the jocular and airy “My Baby Took My Baby Away.” A horn section returns on the vernal “Blame Everybody (But Yourself),” a song which serves in many ways as an addendum to “If She Cared” and “Undefeated.” Penultimate cut “As Forever Became Never Again” once again dabbles in psych-folk territory but goes far deeper than “North of Alabama” ever dared. A full-bodied ass-kicker, “As Forever” is Bare Jr. swinging for the fences and absolutely knocking it out of the park. Undefeated concludes with “ Don’t Stand at the Stove” a harder-hitting version of its predecessor and a head-scratching selection for album closer. But then again, this is Bobby Bare Jr., not Toby Keith. Predictability has never been Bobby Bare Jr.'s MO.
All hilarity and whimsy aside, Undefeated is a true delight. In an era when far too many artists take themselves too seriously, Undefeated is a welcome tonic. Easily digestible, wholeheartedly inoffensive and very much DIY, this is an album that makes the forty minutes more than worth the investment. If only every disc could be this much fun.