Tim Barry – [Album]

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Over the last couple of years, a lot of hot air has been blown and ink spilled declaring that folk is the new punk. To be fair, it's a fair assertion to make (within reason); as some punks have advanced in years of experience (Greg Graffin's a good example, as would be Chuck Ragan), they've found a renewed success in the act of dialing back the decibels of their delivery and inhabiting the common  mental and sociological ground that exists between the provinces of mud, sweat and beers and wood, whiskey and wires. The trade-off that they discover they must make when they lay their distortion pedals down is that they lose an edge too though; those punks that make the transition find their dispositions softening at a rate equal to the decibel depreciation in their music.

Because of that, listeners are left feeling like “quieter” equates to “softer” but one listen to Tim Barry's 28th & Stonewall proves that belief to be untrue.

Unlike his peers that have attempted the punk-to-folk transition to date, on 28th & Stonewall, former Avail singer Tim Barry does indeed scale back the distortion from the guitars and does indeed explore songwriting with a more distinctly melodic focus in his vocals, but no edge in the singer's demeanor has diminished. He still has the same levels of intensity he did when he recorded songs like “F.C.A.,” “Levelled” and “Leather,” he simply mixes some spit with his soul here and comes up with a potent middle ground that speaks to both sides but doesn't play straight to the heart of either.

From the very opening of “Thing Of The Past,” Barry remembers the successes and failures (with sobriety, with interpersonal relationships both personal and romantic, with life lessons learned and missed) with a dry-eyed tone that leaves the verdict on whether the singer feels satisfaction  or regret out and simply elects to chronicle where he is now with a hindsight limited to acknowledging that events happened – no more, no less. In doing that though, Barry hooks listeners inextricably; with that wooden, stoic tone, when Barry says, “Tonight I'm getting drunk and simply living,” listeners want to know the story and understand – or at least sit down and share a fifth with him.

Those listening are in hook, line and sinker – they'll follow Barry anywhere.

The trip that the singer takes his troupe on isn't a dull one either. Barry dives headlong into old times and relives his punk beginnings through coded messages that only those familiar with Avail's history will pick up on (get a load of lines like, “There's no shame in moving on/ I come from Virginia against the grain and with the wind”) but presented as solid alt-country/folk songs that don't rely on the 'once a punk' novelty to get over. The inflections of that history are there, but not pivotal so pivotal to the songs  as bassist Josh Bearman, guitarist Josh Small and drummer Lance Koehler (with occasional assistance from Charles Arthur, Daniel Clark and Caitlin Hunt on lap steel, keys and violin respectively) set down solid and stark folk strains that are impossible to resist. That process of looking back on old times isn't the only one on 28th And Stonewall either; criticisms of long-lost but still prescient policy manifest in songs like "Gabriel's Prosser" which connect the dots between old-time folk music and the injustice it chronicled (slavery – as is the case with "Gabriel's Prosser") with modern politically minded punk and intermingles the ideas for the sake of great songwriting. The combination of those elements in songs like “Will Travel” (which also features a fantastic Creole horn section), “Downtown VCU” and “(Memento Mori)” comes together as a thoroughly unusual sound that amounts to an ideal cross between genres that not only draws the hard lines between folk and punk, but also presents the results at their strongest. Here, Tim Barry presents an infectious but understated sound that is most biting in its candor and critical in its observations, but does so directly, truly and unmistakably; it use volume to get attention, just fine songs.



Tim Barry – "Prosser's Gabriel" – 28th & Stonewall


28th & Stonewall
comes out via Suburban Home Records on February 9, 2010. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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