The Nashville Scene recently named Lonesome Bob (a.k.a. Robert Chaney) the town's "Best Damn Singer/Songwriter," which should be news to Lucinda Williams and Guy Clark. On his latest release, Things Change (Leap Records), Chaney hits with the same shock of recognition and rocks way the hell harder. Backed by a tough, loose band, he surveys an existence grown intolerable on "Weight of the World," faces a legacy of drug- and alcohol-fueled self-destruction in "Dying Breed" and seethes like a man on the verge of madness in "Where Are You Tonight?" He's not thinking of an estranged lover when he recalls, "I had that dream of you last night again/I held you in my arms last night again," but, rather, his son, Zachary, who died of a dirty needle four years ago.
That fact runs like a black undercurrent in every note and word: Chaney doesn't wallow in the horror, he owns up to it, even if the responsibility might crush him. Compared with such severe, unbearable truths, the gratuitous, po'-black-folk accent he gives to "Patches" (a hit for Clarence Carter and Alabama) mars an otherwise intense communication of working-class reality. And if the zeitgeist politics of "Heather's All Bummed Out" -- a snapshot of a disillusioned, Volvo-driving yuppie -- and the left-wing jeremiad "It'd Be Sad If It Weren't So Funny" sound as if they could have been co-written with Michael Moore, the best of Chaney's songs live up to his notices and ring with a scabrous honesty that's his alone. With or without a band, Lonesome Bob's lyrical fury and thundering baritone don't just redeem any trace of singer/songwriter self-absorption -- they kick it into the messy, unforgiving streets of life, where it belongs.
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