By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
"You really can buy an AC/DC record in Nashville," says a sleepy Bare by phone from his Music City abode. "It's not just people walking out of the store with Conway Twitty and Minnie Pearl records. I really did see the Replacements at eighteen in Nashville. It just blows [people's] minds sometimes to think that there's music other than country in Nashville."
Of course, Bare did his fair share of mind-blowing in the '90s with his band, Bare Jr., creating a sort of country-fried slash-and-burn rock, the perfect soundtrack against which you might torch a Rebel flag using the last drop of Jack Daniel's as lighter fluid. By comparison, the junior Bare's latest solo offering, Young Criminals' Starvation League, is slow, traditional, pretty and spare. Its stronger tracks, such as "Stay in Texas," feature clean, reedlike vocal harmonies from Carey Kotsionis that stand in delicious contrast to Bare's unique gravelly drawl.
Twangfest fans can expect the unexpected from Bare when he's in town, but they can count on a relatively faithful cover of the Smiths' "What Difference Does It Make," which makes an appearance as track seven on Starvation League. "[Smiths guitarist] Johnny Marr used a whole lot of Nashville guitar licks over the years, so I think it's fair for Nashville to do a Johnny Marr song," Bare explains.
Hell, Bare even leaves room in the Nashville pantheon for one Lionel Richie. "He stuck so closely to Kenny Rogers," says Bare of the mustachioed chameleon. "He is an Alabama boy. He is as Alabama as Hank Williams." Evidently this ain't your daddy's Old South. -- Seely
Saturday, Duck Room, 11 p.m.
What's most remarkable about Tim Easton isn't his cache of hummable melodies, smart line upon smart line or delicate, inventive arrangements. It's the overall sense of fulfillment -- of a promise, the one he threw down on his previous, and very fine, albums Special 20 and The Truth About Us. Raised in Akron, Ohio, Easton is more than just another nicotine-and-tar-voiced singer/songwriter. What sends him ahead of the scruffy pack is his imagination, as restless as it is true to the craft of songwriting.
"I've seen your imagination miles above the halfway station/Always working, always making something for the pile/Then you set it all on fire." So begins the beginning of Break Your Mother's Heart, his latest record on New West. If more than a few of his alternative-country peers seem convinced that the key to success is trading in acoustic guitars for Moogs or Marshalls, Easton seems to know that there's no substitute for a true song, and all the loud and gaudy dressing of samplers and hipster studios won't redeem a phony rhyme. "Saving some mystery for a gold-shackled bed," he sings on the stripped and scarred closer, "True Ways." "Love would last forever if we'd only stayed interested." He sounds as if the killing truth he's found might render all else irrelevant -- even the pulsing wound he might be confusing with love. "Throwing sympathy wrapped tight with malice/We're so damaged our kisses turn careless." Sound Dylanesque? Indeed, but Easton is one of the few young songwriters today who genuinely merit the comparison.
Easton's last appearance in St. Louis found him opening for the Jayhawks at Mississippi Nights. With just a guitar and harmonica, he owned the stage and won over a skeptical crowd. No surprise, really, because he cut his teeth busking in Europe and plays his flat-top guitar with a driving, lyrical clarity. If you want to hear just how far a good song can go -- and with a band, his songs will only travel further -- make sure you're at the Duck Room for Easton's set. -- Kasten