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Bobby Bare - 'Darker Than Light'

Released on Plowboy Records, Nov. 13, 2012

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

By

Bobby Bare - Darker Than Light

Bobby Bare - Darker Than Light

© Plowboy Records
Bobby Bare is, unarguably, a living legend of country music. He occupies that space previously reserved for folks like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. He's dabbled in all manner of country music over the course of his fifty-year career, from the outlaw side to smack dab in the middle of music row, and back again. This time around, he decided to tackle some more traditional fare, compiling an album of sixteen traditional and contemporary folk songs. (And one U2 cover which, strangely, makes sense here.)

Cover Tunes - Pros and Cons

This is not the first time Bobby Bare has tackled American folk music or even cover songs. He's had hits with tunes that were written by everyone from Kris Kristofferson to Shel Silverstein. Though he's quite a fantastic songwriter himself, he's no stranger to recording music written by other people. That said, this album comes off like a series of hits and misses.

Some of the folk songs are a bit of a stretch. The instrumentation on "Boll Weevil" (popularized by Leadbelly) is fantastic, but the delivery of the lyrics starts to feel tired by the end of the song. Bare's interpretation of Bob Dylan's "Farewell Angelina" leaves a little to be desired. The words and rhythms are awkward on his tongue. Then again, his delivery of the oft-covered "House of the Rising Sun" is one of the darkest and most haunting versions of the song you may have ever heard. Bare's low, slog of a bass voice seems to be dragging that "suitcase and a trunk" with all the will it can muster.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" transforms one of U2's biggest pop hits into a tune which sounds like it could thrive on Americana radio (where more than a few fans are, let's say, cynical about the allure of the great rock band). "Banks of the Ohio" is another runaway hit on this disc. The song is so old nobody knows where it came from, though it's been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Pete Seeger and Olivia Newton-John. Bare gives it new life and makes it feel so relevant, it could be a radio hit these days.

The Bottom Line

Bobby Bare has made better albums, but for long-time fans, Darker Than Light will be a worthy inclusion in their collection. Most of the songs on the disc are outstanding, but there are a couple misses that leave a little to be desired. Considering there are sixteen tracks total on the disc, it's easy to wish Bare and his cohorts had seen fit to whittle it down to 12. There doesn't seem to be a uniting theme or narrative on the disc, so much as it is a collection of songs Bare no doubt enjoys performing; thus, cutting out the not-outstanding tracks might have served the album a lot more than leaving them in.

Nonetheless, I'd be remiss to not recognize that the artist at work here is a legend in his field, and with good reason. Bare is a master at inhabiting the songs he performs, and he's joined here by some of the most extraordinary instrumentalists Nashville has to offer (Buddy Miller, Randy Scruggs, Vince Gill, among others). Even with a small handful of tracks dragging down the overall punch of the album, Darker Than Light is no doubt still better than most of what else came out of Nashville this year. Give it a spin and decide for yourself.

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