CD Review: Country legend remains in top form after hiatus

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    While most country legends are either dead or recording with Rick Rubin, Bobby Bare has returned with a collection of songs that’s easily better than anything else out of Nashville this year.Bare first grabbed the spotlight with tunes like the Grammy-winning “Detroit City,” and in 1973, with a collection of tunes penned by Playboy cartoonist-turned-children’s author, Shel Silverstein, called “Bobby Bare Sings Lullabies, Legends, and Lies.” A maverick in the early ’60s Nashville scene, Bare sang quirky songs with snappy countrypolitan arrangements, making him something of a bohemian Eddy Arnold.

    Then, Bare disappeared. More like faded away actually. After 1983’s “Drinkin’ from the Bottle, Singin’ from the Heart,” Bare stepped away from the music business, and, according to an October New York Times article by Ben Ratliff, took up fishing.

    The funny thing is, Bare wouldn’t have even recorded the superb “The Moon was Blue” had it not been for his son, alt-country wild man Bobby Bare Jr., who persuaded the elder Bare to record his first album of new material in 22 years. The two will be performing at this year’s South by Southwest music festival.

    Produced by Bare Jr., “Moon” is full of charming songs and heartbreaking stories. And, unlike Rick Rubin’s spare production on several Johnny Cash CDs, Bare Jr.’s clean, simple style includes small loops of feedback and reverb, as well as some lovely orchestrations that give “Moon” a sleepy-eyed feel. But for the most part, Son lets Dad do what he does best – sing good songs.

    On tracks such as “It’s All in the Game” and “Love Letters in the Sand,” Bare croons gently over a steady waltz beat. Tommy Edwards made “Game” a hit in 1958, and Bare stays true to the song, crooning like Ike was still in office. Other tracks, such as “Yesterday When I was Young” and “Am I that Easy to Forget,” are nothing short of heartbreaking. Of course, country music used to be able to do that.

    The disc highlight is Bare’s take on old collaborator Silverstein’s “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.” It’s a tale about an unsatisfying marriage, and had he recorded it 30 years ago, it would probably be one of his staples by now.

    The disc falters, though, with “Fellow Travelers.” Bare employs a children’s chorus, and the effect is outdated at best. It comes off sounding like town drunk Otis P. Campbell from the “Andy Griffith Show” cut a record with Opie Taylor and his classmates.

    As a whole, “Blue” is genuine and charming, a mellow and refreshing change from current Nashville trends. It’s a lot like when your dad hummed an old tune and asked if you knew it. Unlike your dad, though, Bare actually knows the words.