There have been many true country music “Outlaws” over the years, and many more that claim to be. But there can be only one original Outlaw, and that is Bobby Bare. Without Bobby Bare, there may be no Waylon Jennings. When Bare discovered Waylon in Phoenix, AZ in 1964, Waylon was still very much a regional act. It was Bobby Bare that introduced Waylon to Chet Atkins at RCA in Nashville, and helped bring Waylon’s career to the national stage.
It was also Bobby Bare who first rebelled against Chet Atkins, RCA, and the Nashville system, which in the 60’s put all the creative power in the hands of producers, and didn’t allow artists to record with their own bands. Before Waylon, it was Bobby Bare who forbid session musicians from playing on his songs, and started picking out his own material from renegade songwriters such as Shel Silverstein, Kris Kristofferson, and Billy Joe Shaver. It was Bobby Bare who helped inspire Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to extricate themselves from their restrictive RCA contracts, and stimulated the Outlaw movement of the early 70’s in earnest.
But that’s not what Bobby Bare is best known for. He’s known for his early country mod material, appearing in suits and singing Countrypolitan songs of the time such as “Detroit City” with its lush chorus lines. Later he would be known for the novelty songs by Shel Silverstein, and Paul Craft’s “Drop Kick Me Jesus.” Though no less an Outlaw than any of the other greats of the era, Bobby Bare didn’t have the rough persona preceding him like Waylon did. He didn’t have the crossover or acting success of Willie Nelson or Kris Kristofferson. His output was quality, and timeless, but perhaps not as defining of an era as others. Yet without Bare, the Outlaw era arguably may have never happened.
Now at 82, and with his name already enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Bobby Bare doesn’t owe anything to anybody. Unlike Willie and some older artists, he doesn’t seem to have the desire to die on stage. But he does have the desire to keep moving forward as long as his energy allows, and the crowds assemble to see him.
Bobby Bare’s first record in five years features many new original songs from Bare, a remake of his legendary “Detroit City” with Chris Stapleton, a song called “I Drink” by songwriter and Americana performer Mary Gauthier that is exactly the kind of drinking song you wish country radio would still play, and a co-write with Guy Clark that is considered as Clark’s last written song.
Produced by Max D. Barnes, Things Change doesn’t find Bobby Bare suffering from old man’s syndrome and bemoaning the changing world around him, it’s Bare using the wisdom of his age to understand that change is the only constant, and that just when you have a handle on things, it’s sure to change again. Though it seems like a simple concept, the expression of simple truths is what is at the heart of most great songs, and that’s the reason the title track won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 through Norwegian musician Petter Øien in 2012.
“Ain’t No Sure Thing” reinforces this concept, and Things Change is full of fluid moments and sharp observations on life, like the brilliant “The Trouble With Angels” about the often fleeting nature of grace and love. Bare does fall into a little sad reminiscing in songs like “Mercy Now” and “Where Did It Go,” but at 82-years-old, this is what you expect, and kind of want from an artist like Bobby Bare.
The weather and age is obvious in Bare’s voice in his slight warble, but it’s just as much endearing as anything, whether it’s in its tear-soaked reminiscence, or its dry humor. Things Change doesn’t feel essential, or a like high water mark like we’ve heard from some older artists recently such as Willie Nelson, but it’s a strong offering that grows on you, and is graced by the warm presence of Bare’s voice.
Of all the great things Bare has forged in his legacy, one of his most lasting contributions might be his 1,000-watt smile and those emotion-filled eyes that have withstood all the separate eras his career has traversed, and they still hold up today. As you listen to Things Change, you can’t help but see that smile in the mind’s eye, and it puts you in a place only the best music experiences can.
Bobby Bare’s days of hit records and heavy influence in the music industry are over, but life goes on, and so does the music. Things change, but Bobby Bare’s legacy will remained cemented in time.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7/10)
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