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Bobby Bare - The Real Thing / I Hate Goodbyes / Ride Me Down Easy

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Artist: Bobby Bare

Album: The Real Thing / I Hate Goodbyes / Ride Me Down Easy

Label: Omni

Review date: May. 24, 2013

Bobby Bare - "The Real Thing (More Than a Memory)"

“Lost album” remains a discographical assignation fraught with ambiguities. What exactly qualifies for the marketing-savvy signifier? Is posthumous pressing, as in the case of Hendrix’s First Rays of the New Rising Sun, a prerequisite? Or is it merely sufficient for the platter not to have been properly appreciated in its time? Apparently in country icon Bobby Bare’s case, The Real Thing, released by RCA for all of a New York Minute in 1970 before slipping out of print for the rest of the century, fits the criteria.

While nothing approaching an incontrovertible treasure, the LP definitely has its moments, starting with Bare’s ambitious cover of the Kris Kristofferson classic “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” Johnny Cash garnered the hit turn with the tune and nothing really approaches the melancholy magnificence of Kristofferson’s own original take that finishes out his contemporaneous Monument debut, but Bare earns a respectable third place finish with his rendering and a stellar assist from Pete Drake on steel guitar. Cash-style affections are more present than usual in Bare’s vocal delivery on several of the songs and his dry, take-it-as-it-comes drawl gives even hope-tinged tracks like “California Dreams” an aura of resignation right in line with the realist-minded times.

The session musicians are mostly ace, especially the aforementioned Drake but also other Nashville ringers like guitarist Harold Bradley, fiddler Buddy Spicher and pianist Hargus Robbins. Bare’s regular RCA production team of Chet Akins and Jack Clement ensures a unified studio sound despite the mounting acrimony that came to a head after the sessions and ended Bare’s contract with the label before the album’s circulation (another defining contributor to its only cursory tenure on record shop racks).

The female vocal group The Jordanaires also lends a hand backing the band with checkered results. “Singer of Sad Songs” and “Tulsa County” even throw some pop horn charts into the mix. Bare had a preternatural talent for picking choice story songs by the likes of Tom T. Hall and Billy Edd Wheeler and that talent blooms here. too. Hall’s slice-of-country-singer-living “Homecoming” is a highlight, along with “Come on Home and Sing the Blues, Daddy,” the latter thanks in no small part to Drake’s killer steel fills.

The good folks at Omni are never ones to cut corners on content. The disc also includes Bare’s I Hate Goodbyes / Ride Me Down Easy from 1973, plus with four more tracks from earlier in Bare’s career that despite some strong topically-veiled lyrics suffer from presence of saccharine studio strings. The later effort is more in line with the singer’s usual playbook, mixing cuts by Shel Silverstein, Billy Joe Shaver and others into a decently potent listening brew. Shaver’s “Restless Wind” and Mickey Newbury’s “Poison Red Berries” lead the pack in sketching mood-setting imagery of lost souls engaged in the futile pursuit of escaping their sorrow-laden pasts. None of the music falls far outside Bare’s standard formula for the 1970s, but by this writer’s measure, that’s a mighty fine place to spend some time. “Lost” or not, this particular body of song is worth attention paid.

By Derek Taylor

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