Rugged country crooner Bobby Bare’s tough as nails reputation seems tempered somewhat, certainly if judged by his new album, the tellingly titled Things Change. Perhaps it’s the fact he’s witnessed the passing of so many of his contemporaries. Or, maybe he’s simply mellowing with age. Whatever the case, there are clearly some tears in his gruff demeanor, a combination of resignation and resilience that’s unavoidable because it’s consistently implied.
“The trouble with angels is that they all fly away,” Bare sings on “The Trouble With Angels,” one of many tracks that convey that sense of weary reflection. Granted, songs that boast titles like “The End,” “Where Did It Go” and “Things Change” don’t necessarily bode well as far as optimism or determination are concerned. Yet on songs like the aforementioned title track or the jaunty “Ain’t No Sure Thing,” Bare seems more intent on trying acceptance. “Cowboy hats blow off in the wind. And women rule the world, not the men,” he sings over the sturdy banjo-inflected ramble that underscores “Things Change.” Given the fact that Bare can claim a good measure of credit for being among the forerunners of the so-called outlaw country movement, what with all its posturing, belligerence and bravado, any kind of concession as far as that macho attitude is concerned is certainly worth noting.
While it’s easy to find parallels between Bare’s new crop of self-penned material and the fact that at age 82, he might be glancing backwards and not necessarily looking forward, Bare is also writing songs that can resonate with today’s Everyman. “I Drink,” one of two co-writes with Mary Gauthier, shares the story of a hardworking family man whose days are marked by the typical nine to five grind, with a couple of drinks and a frozen dinner a cause for complacency. “Trophy Girl,” a collaboration with Guy Clark that turned out to be Clark’s final composition, conveys a rollicking rhythm even while sharing its sad tale of fleeting romance. Likewise, the upbeat and infectious “Mercy Night” offers an admiring glance back to his father, sentiments he could consider sharing with his son Bare Jr., a gritty renegade in his own right.
The most telling track on Things Change is also its most reflective, “Where Did It Go.” That question is answered later with the final offering, a surprisingly sprightly remake of Bare’s 1963 Grammy-winning classic “Detroit City.” The fact that it features shared vocals with Chris Stapleton, an artist whose rugged style owes a debt to Bare’s insurgent stance, suggests that the “it” in question has been passed down the pike.