August 07, 2002

Bobby Bare, Jr "Young Criminal's Starvation League"

When an artist is imperfect, sometimes those imperfections can actually enhance their art. Look at K Records, for example. Many of their artists (including loveable labelhead Calvin) supplement their lack of ability with a certain charm that can't be denied. A unique and original sound can often ring louder than the most technically perfect sound.

If you've heard Bobby Bare Jr's band, Bare Jr, you wouldn't think that a record like Young Criminal's Starvation League would be possible. I'll make no bones about it--don't care for Bare, Jr (the band) simply because the music seems forced and outdated. Alt-rock? Come on, this is the 21st century! Thankfully there's nothing that could pass for Bare Jr on baby Bobby's solo debut. In fact, I wouldn't really know that the two were related were it not for the obvious name thing.

Don't let his past bother you, though. Young Criminal's Starvation League is a fun, funny record, even when he's being totally serious. "I'll Be Around" kicks off the album, and is easily one of the best songs I've heard all year. It's a ballad-ish type of song about his devotion to a less-than-loving lover. His voice, however, is set somewhere between caterwaul and bitterness, and it really makes the lyrics seem much harsher than they actually are.

It's that odd vocal combination--and YES, he does sound that way--which gives Young Criminal's Starvation League its kick. For the most part, the songs are acoustic-based, though he is supplemented at times by a full band sound and female accompaniment on songs such as "Stay in Texas" and "The Monk at the Disco." His humor, though, is the thing that really sets these songs apart. While some people try to be funny in their music, his songs are hillariously sardonic, especially “Dig Down,” his bitter, open letter response to the greats of rock and roll--Pete Townsend, Jimi Hendrix, and Black Francis. There are some real tender moments, too, such as “Meehan” and “Painting Her Fingernails,” but thankfully Bare doesn’t tarry too long in one particular style or sound, creating a varied, pleasant, and rather soothing listen.

Welcome to the world, Bobby Bare, Jr. We really like your songs about lonely, drug-addicted small breasted girls who abuse their cat (my cat hates that song), priests who get offered blow at clubs, and odes to the great nation-state of Texas. We also like your cover of both the Smiths “What Difference Does it Make?” and your late, great family friend Shel Silverstein’s “Painting Her Fingernails.” Here’s to your success--and Young Criminal’s Starvation League is a success--and to a long, interesting, and funny future.

--Joseph Kyle

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