Tim Barry’s third studio effort, 28th & Stonewall, was released a couple of weeks ago and Romeo and I have been exchanging thoughts on it ever since. We did it through Google Wave, and now I am gonna attempt to assemble those thoughts into a concise and tight piece that does the album the justice it deserves, though perhaps “deserves” is too weak of a word. 28th and Stonewall, like Tim’s albums before and the man himself, doesn’t just sit back and take what’s coming. It steams forward, taking its respect and beating you into submission with raw power and honest emotion.
The first two tracks from the album that were released are “Thing of the Past” and “Memento Mori”. “Thing of the Past” is a highly produced, upbeat track about the excess and materialism of society and Tim’s aversion to it, while “Memento Mori” is a much more raw glimpse into the psyche of Tim, with a musical backing that firmly embraces Tim’s punk background. These two songs got me to thinking, and as I said to RSV, “I think Tim should just stop giving his albums titles. They should just be, ‘The Tao of Tim Barry Vol. 1 (2,3,4, etc.)’…They’re like self-help books put to music.” Romeo was in full agreement, adding, “I can see that. They are not ‘albums’ as much as they are sort of a journey through Tim’s mind at the time. With this one we start out with a juke and jive on “Thing of the Past”, slip into some damn serious anger with “Prosser’s Gabriel”, slide into N’awlins groove with “Will Travel”, head into some talking blues with “Downtown Blues“, and then close it out with the tongue-in-cheek “Bus Driver”. It’s more like a stream of consciousness session than an album in the traditional sense, but most of his are like that.” My understanding is that 28th and Stonewall was written and recorded in a 3 week stint while Tim was off the road. I think that style of immediacy really helps lend to the explosion of thoughts, anger, philosophy and emotion that have so defined Tim’s sound throughout the years.
While much about Tim’s new album follows his usual modus operandi, it is not without growth. As I touched on earlier, “Thing of the Past” is the most radio friendly (worthy!) song Tim’s ever put out, replete with a stellar production and catchy hooks, not to mention the addition of new instruments throughout the album such as…horns? What? Yup. The new Tim Barry album has horns. I find this especially amusing following all the scuttlebutt about the horns on the new Lucero album. During my conversation with RSV I said, “I mean, it won’t get nearly the run that the new Lucero did but, Hey Y’all…the new Tim Barry album has horns! I think the horns and strings in some of the tracks really do a lot to support the songs instead of (like with Lucero) becoming a focal point of the songs.” RSV agreed adding, “It’s more subtle than the Lucero addition, but it seems to stand out more. I think this is because Tim’s stuff was so much more stripped down than Lucero’s to begin with. It’s a bigger jump, but Tim did it with a whole damn lot of style. I mean, “Will Travel” is totally a N’awlin’s closing time song. It’s more than horns, though, it’s that delta blues piano, the way the horns are dirty and wandering, and the fullness of the whole addition.”
So this bears the question, is this the best Tim Barry album to date? Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of Manchester when it came out. It really took seeing Tim live for me to “get it”, after which I went back and listened to Manchester again, falling head over heels in love, and ditto for his back catalog. But when it comes to asking if this is his “best” album to date, I keep coming up with “yes” and I really can’t envision an end of the year Top 5 list in this genre that wouldn’t have this album on it. However, when I asked RSV where he thought it slotted, he was a little more pensive, replying, “I am torn on it. It may be odd, but the top of my list right now is Laurel St. Demo, but 28th and Stonewall isn’t any less amazing. It may take some time, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it ended up my favorite Tim Barry album at least until the next one. I also don’t see a top 5 without this one in it either. It’s only February but everyone else has a long way to go to catch up with Tim. I have high hopes for some, but I think this album will be in rarefied company come December.”
Ranking within the Barry discography aside, there is little doubt that 28th & Stonewall is Essential Listening and a sure shot for a Top 5 album of the year slotting for me. Good luck with the other four slots, music world.