(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
It is really good to see Bobby Bare return to recording a solo album after more than two decades. With The Moon Was Blue, Bare has created and continues to create one of the most enduring, quixotic and lovable bodies of music in American music history.
Just looking over the titles of songs he’s made famous over the years is a lyrical walk through some of the best music America and especially Nashville has had in past decades. Just reading a few song titles activates the jukebox in your head, and you can hear these memorable songs that paint a vivid tableau of America in past decades: Cowboys & Daddies, Four Strong Winds, Daddy What If, Detroit City, Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home, Drop Kick Me Jesus, 500 Miles Away From Home, The Streets of Baltimore, Tequila Sheila, Quaaludes Again, Drunk and Crazy, Marie Laveau, Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends, Me and Bobby McGee, (Margie’s at) the Lincoln Park Inn, The Wonderful Soup Stone, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Singin’ in the Kitchen.
Equally as important, he’s been the quiet, behind-the-scenes revolutionary in Nashville’s artist independence movement as well as its songwriting evolution. Bare quietly seized or won the right to take control of his recording career early on, before the talk about “Outlaws” hit national media. And you’ve never heard Bare bragging about it. But he was a major force in turning Nashville around in a big way. When he introduced Nashville to the extraordinary writing talents of Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver and Shel Silverstein, it was as if three large bombs had suddenly been hurled through the showroom windows of Nashville’s establishment. Three completely unconventional, unpredictable, explosive poets were rewriting the country canon.
Bare’s collaboration with Silverstein, in particular, on the early-1974 double-album Lullabies, Legends and Lies was and remains a watershed in Nashville songwriting and recording history, especially for its daring sense of adventure in a musical genre that had become mired in convention. Along the way (along with actively championing songwriters), he discovered Waylon Jennings in Phoenix and recommended to Chet Atkins that RCA sign him. Bare also championed such fledgling songwriters as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and J.J. Cale.
Bare and Jennings became fast friends, and the latter always said Bare is “the best songhound in the world.” And truer words were never spoken. He’s still doing that. Bare’s remarkable career began, we must remember, with a huge pop hit that he wrote and recorded and was attributed to someone else. His 1958 smash “All-American Boy” was a demo that Bare recorded for his friend Bill Parsons to cut. The demo, issued under Parsons’ name while Bare was shipped off in the U.S. Army, became a huge hit — the second biggest single in the U.S. at the time. You didn’t hear Bare complain. He just came back later from the Army and quietly built one of the most remarkable careers in music. His deceptively quiet demeanor and less than flamboyant approach to performing sometimes masked one of the most progressive forces in music. Make no mistake about it: Year in and year out, for many years, Bobby Bare has been a fierce and uncompromising force for good and pure music.
Bare remains as disarmingly laid-back as ever. The Moon Was Blue (set to be released Nov. 1) is made up of timeless music that finds him winding together many of the threads that have marked his music over the years. It is an unclassifiable album. “Am I That Easy to Forget” is a classic rock-era, triplet-laden, slow dance overlaid with an urgent current sense. It has been a country hit several times and a pop hit once for Debbie Reynolds. “I Am an Island” is an atmospheric soliloquy that declares that “time means nothing to a stone.” “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” is the tragic tale of a desperate suburban housewife who runs out of life options after her fantasies drift away and whose last options include running “naked down the shady street screaming all the way” and climbing to the rooftop for a finale. The song is one of Silverstein’s most eloquent compositions, and Bare breathes new life into this domestic saga. “Fellow Travelers” anchors the album with a children’s chorus echoing and solidifying Bare’s call for international unity. Very understated, but very elegant.
His son, Bobby Bare Jr., who first appeared at age 5 with his father on the Grammy-nominated song “Daddy What If” in 1973, again joins his father in the studio on The Moon Was Blue for another Bare family production, harking back to 1974’s Singin’ in the Kitchen album and to “Daddy What If.”