Jeb Barry & The Pawn Shop Saints
Dolly Rocker Recordings.
Slightly Dark Yet Starkly Beautiful Alt. Country Deluxe.
DAMN……mostly because this is a Double album it’s sat unloved in the ‘to do’ box for several weeks, until yesterday when my trusty I-Phone played opening track Trouble Down in Tennessee and I had to take a sharp intake of breath, waiting to see who the artist was on the car stereo. Jeb Barry? Who he?
Currently residing in the hills of New England, the one time ‘nearly Pop Star’ Jeb Barry is a singer-songwriter in the proud traditions of Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and more importantly, RMHQ Favourite Slaid Cleaves; but sounds nothing like any of them.
This release is a Double Album primarily because not only is Barry a prolific songwriter but can comfortably deliver them as raw intimate solo efforts (the second disc) or better still as atmospheric and carefully constructed Alt. Country minor epics alongside his bandmates.
Let’s scoot back to that first song Trouble Down in Tennessee; and it’s opening line “Had a little trouble down in Tennessee/Load a whisky and a girl who didn’t love me.” Coupled to a rip-cord tight band and a sloppy Dobro…….; and the song only gets deeper and better the longer it goes on. That is the Alternative to Country I adore.
As you’d expect most of the songs here are heartbreakers, tearjerkers and bar-room ballads; and boy oh boy can Jeb Barry tell a story…….Galveston ’92 and Southern Oak are pretty much as good as this genre gets.
Miss Mississippi is the type of fascinating song that you thought only Steve Earle could write twenty odd years ago; but Jeb picks up that uber-detailed mantle and runs off into the distance with it; taking the listener on a journey through the dive bars and Honky-Tonks trying to re-live that magical night.
Chainsmoker is a fascinating choice of metaphor for the loser in a break up; but again Barry effortlessly tugs at the heartstrings until you choke back the tears; and that deadpan jangly guitar won’t help your cause either.
While the album title is Texas Etc. it could and should be Gravel Roads and Whiskey Bars, which follows and is very much the musical cornerstone to Album #1 and probably the whole kit and caboodle; as it is the essence of Jeb Barry’s songwriting all rolled into three short minutes and giving Sturgill Simpson a good run for his money.
Album #2 is a slightly darker affair, opening with the starkly beautiful A Little Mercy; which possibly finds Barry at his poetic best; and Michael O’Neill’s delicate mandolin playing alongside Barry’s soft guitar is quite spellbinding, by the way.
At times like this I find it weird to say that there’s not a bad song here; honestly there’s no filler here at all as every single song is here on merit.
In I Can’t Live In Houston Anymore, somehow Jeb manages to make this major metropolis sound like a Hick town in the back of beyond; but I guess unrequited love can get you like that can’t it?
That theme reappears on El Paso Sucks which took me back 45 years to a similar end to a relationship I experienced in my teens and had more or less forgot about; but that’s the beauty of classy songwriting isn’t it?
Where do I go for a favourite track? I’m damn sure I need to play this album a lot more to get the very best from it; but today I’m going for the majestic If This Heart Had Walls from Album #1 and either….no……I must be brave…….choose one for God’s Sake! OK……the stunning duet with Heather Austin, It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time is ‘that song’ that will haunt everyone who ever hears it, as the intimate detail in every single line while remind you of something in your own life; albeit the past but hopefully not the present……but it really is a Country Heartbreaker Deluxe.
There is one more song deserving of a mention; but one that stands apart from the crowd; Refugees is normally sung at the end of the night as a group effort; most regularly alongside a group of friends that includes Sarah Lee Guthrie but here Jeb Barry resurrects that Greenwich Village 1960’s spirit on a tragically beautiful song that suggests every single American citizen is actually a refugee in one form or another and should be a lot more tolerant to those seeking refuge in ‘the Land of the Free’ in the 21st Century.
Released April 27th 2018