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Milking poignancy from humor in songwriting is a rare gift. Today, just about no one can touch Bobby Bare Jr.'s ability to marry funny and sad. With an infectious and ever-shifting oddball sensibility, he's released three albums over the last six years filled with lyrics barbed, melancholy, sly and droll. Maybe his best, most popular song is called “Flat Chested Girl from Maynardville.” On his most recent album, “The Longest Meow,” his song “Snuggling World Championships” has the lyrics: “Eating Cheerios/I got a bloody nose … I will never back down.”
The son of renowned country star Bobby Bare, Bare Jr. grew up outside of Nashville steeped in all things country music. George Jones and Tammy Wynette lived next door. His father regularly hung out with Jerry Reed, Silverstein and Waylon Jennings. At the tender age of 5, he was nominated for a Grammy for a duet with his father, “Daddy What If,” written by Shel Silverstein. On the strength of that song (which lost out to the Pointer Sisters at the Grammys), he later performed at the Ryman on the last night it hosted the Grand Ole Opry.
Despite that background, beyond that early hit, it would be a stretch to call Bare Jr.'s music country. Early forays into grunge transitioned into a sort of hard-rock roots outfit called, simply, Bare Jr. The band released two major label albums and toured with Aerosmith before hanging it up.
Since 2002, Bare Jr.'s worked with a revolving collective of some 40 friends and cohorts that he calls the Young Criminal's Starvation League. Members of the Silver Jews, My Morning Jacket, Ghostfinger and dozens of other Nashville-area miscreants pitch in. It's a freewheeling arrangement that lends their tours a Bob Dylan-style of air of experimentation.
“It's a lot of fun,” Bare Jr. says on the phone from somewhere in rural Alabama. “I get to rework the songs every time when I go out with different people.”
Feel lucky, Little Rock. Bare Jr., who often tours heavily but hasn't to his recollection been to Little Rock in a couple of years, is only doing around 40 shows this year. Nashville calls. Most immediately, the singer/songwriter, together with his brothers, has resurrected his dad's publishing company, and he and has dad have started to write songs for Music Row.
“I know everybody in that world. I just don't play shows with them. Music Row might as well be in Portugal. I tell people I opened up for Cat Power, and they say, ‘Who?' ”
Meanwhile, Bare Jr. is also trying to organize a Shel Silverstein tribute album to feature My Morning Jacket, the Black Keys and Kris Kristofferson. He's currently shopping the project to labels.
He might also be heading out to Romania in September to film a movie for a director friend that's slated to star Jack Black. Even though last month he auditioned, by request of the production team, for “Shrek the Musical” on Broadway (Fayetteville's Jason Moore will direct), he doesn't have further acting ambitions.
“I really don't want to be an actor,” he says intently. “You put Glenn Close next to Aretha Franklin. Which one of those people is truly capable of just destroying your soul?”
“It would have been great to send my kids to school with the answer to the question, ‘What does your daddy do?' as ‘SHREK, yeah the green guy, SHREK, that is what MY daddy does,' ” Bare Jr. wrote on his MySpace blog after he didn't get the part.
“But I guess they are gonna stick by the ole ‘ROCK and ROLL SINGER, yeah, my Dad's a ROCK AND ROLL SINGER.' ”
Bobby Bare Jr. and the Young Criminals Starvation League open for roots rock legends Son Volt at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 20, at Revolution. Tickets are $15.