An antidote to alt-country that can often sound as clichéd and predictable as mainstream country, this oddball gem of a solo project offers a surprise with practically every cut. Where his Bare Jr.
band typically scorches its way through Southern-fried rock, frontman Bobby Bare Jr. here takes a quieter and stranger approach. The organic interplay of acoustic and electric instrumentation suggests a living-room recording, yet the stately and soulful horn charts of "I'll Be Around" and "The Ending" seem to be channeled from a different sonic sphere. Songs evoke such diverse influences as the Smiths
(a countrified cover of "What Difference Does It Make") and the Who
(whose "Pinball Wizard" riffing gets a Tex-Mex twist on "The Monk at the Disco"). Junior teams with Bobby Sr.
on "Flat Chested Girl from Maynardville" and dips into the catalog of one of papa Bare's favorite songwriters, Shel Silverstein
, for "Painting Her Fingernails." The album's centerpiece anthem, "Dig Down," addresses the challenge of trying to do something original in the wake of Jimi Hendrix
, the Pixies
, and Chuck Berry
. "I do the best with the leftovers I've got," sings Bobby Jr., who plainly recognizes the distinction between homage and derivative mimicry. --Don McLeese