Rhythm & Views

Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminals Starvation League

Bobby Bare Jr.'s version of country is pretty smartass: Country stylings with rock nuances (horns, for instance, aren't usually found on country records, especially baritone saxophones) and clever lyrics give the steel guitars and harmonicas an almost ironic twinge. From the End of Your Leash is Bare's fifth record, and his second with The Young Criminals Starvation League, a bunch of musicians that includes Andrew Bird, Will Oldham and Paul Niehaus.

From the End of Your Leash is the kind of record that, although it's not doing anything especially innovative, holds your attention. Mostly, it's the smartass lyrics: "The hills are filled with naked hee-haw honeys who all sing along in perfect harmony, the world's greatest living guitar pickers can deliver you a pizza or sell you weed," sings Bare in "Visit Me in Music City." Bare's singing career began in the early '70s, when he was nominated for a Grammy at the age of five for a Shel Silverstein song he sang with his father, the first Bobby Bare; lo and behold, there's a Shel Silverstein song present here ("Things I Didn't Say"). It's a sign of maturity that Bare Jr. can embrace his past without compromising his own songs. "Your Adorable Beast," for example, extends the old metaphor of the man being the faithful dog to his lady owner in a loving way; the backing vocals turn it into a pop song, and the chorus, "I look cute from the end of your leash," twists the sentiment. This is country the way it was meant to be: songs of love and devotion, with the right balance of smartass and melancholy.

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