There are times in your life that run across something that changes the way you look at the world, the way you live your life. I think that for me, the first thing I ran across that did for me was, as cliche as it is, On The Road. You see I came up in a house where the music was “Christian” or Country and went to private schools run by my parents chosen denomination, or lack thereof, so the real world was a scary place for me. Musically, I think, the album that broke things open for was Social Distortion’s self titled record. In those days finding something that challenged my world view and made me consider the way I looked at things wasn’t hard to do. However as I slowly morphed from angry young man to curmudgeon that changed. I became more set in my ways with less desire to change. I became, and still am, to some degree, comfortable with my worldview. I got married (twice), got a house with a two car garage, an SUV, and a bunch of kids. While I still sought out good music my life was the life of the standard American consumer. I wasn’t unhappy with it at all, at least not that I realized.
I know that you may not believe me when I say this but that changed when I started listening to Tim Barry. I think it was Idle Idylist that started me thinking but throughout the body of Tim’s work there’s a common thread of living simply, living cheap, and enjoying life for what it is. I’ve only managed to see the man live a single time but the intensity he has in just a simple conversation much less on stage has burned that night in to my memory quite starkly. I think I described seeing him on stage as “like watching a man about to get in to a fight with himself”.
Now I’ve said all that to say this: I love Tim’s studio work. It’s never overproduced and there’s not a Tim Barry record I don’t like but after seeing him live I prefer the simplicity of just the man and his guitar. Raising Hell & Living Cheap gives us just that. It’s the full experience complete with banter, song introductions, and as intense as you can get without being at a show. In my opinion, outside of seeing him live, this is the best way to listen to Tim Barry. I think the best part about this album is that they didn’t cut out any of the banter. Tim, like many artists we talk about here, is a storyteller. Stories told in song tend to take on their own context for the listener and a lot of times we don’t think about what the writer was going through when the song was written. Now some of that is obvious from the songs themselves but Tim takes it a step further and gives us the back stories. Whether it’s talking about writing a song while riding on a loaded coal car or singing “Ronnie Song” to his best friend just days before his untimely demise, there’s so much more shared than just the lyrics. In a way it makes the songs more personal than assigning our own contexts to them.
An interesting thing about this album is that Tim didn’t know it was being recorded. I don’t know what would have changed if he had known but this is unfiltered and unadulterated Tim Barry. Whether it’s playing a song down in the crowd or telling his stories it’s all there. Live albums can be hit or miss but this one is a solid hit. Without any reservation I can say that is Essential Listening. It makes me want to road trip, catch a plane, or do whatever I have to see this man play live again. Trust me it’s an experience that you won’t forget and this album captures it as well it can be captured. Instead of the usual tracks I post I’m just going to toss in some videos that Tim used on his page beside the track listing. You really need to consume this album as whole entity and take the time to listen from start to finish, maybe with a PBR in your hand. There’s a double record vinyl release coming but it’s very limited so keep your eyes open if you want this one in that format.
Fine Foods Market – Swansea 2012
Idle Idylist – Live in Philly 2009