Bobby Bare, Jr. is a songwriter who often has a has a hard time deciding if he wants to be silly or serious and usually ends up covering a bit of both, which befits a guy who was friends with Shel Silverstein, a man who made a brilliant career out of grafting the goofy to the profound. Bare certainly had plenty to think seriously about since his 2006 album The Longest Meow; he and his wife had a son before going through a contentious divorce, he fell in love again and fathered another child, and his mother had a peculiar brush with death alluded to in the title of A Storm, A Tree, My Mother's Head. But while this album feels weightier and more personal than most of Bare's previous work, that's not to say that he's left his mystic hillbilly wit on the sidelines for these sessions. Some of the darker moments of Bare's recent history inform this album, such as "One of Us Has Got to Go" and "But I Do" (two tales of seriously messed-up relationships he co-wrote with his father Bobby Bare Sr.), "Sad Smile" (which begins with the lines "Last night I got busted/ For acting just like myself"), and the title song, which features the sound of Bare's mom screaming deep in the mix. But not all the darker currents on this album are obviously autobiographical; there's the guy thinking about violating a court order so he can hang out with his girlfriend on "Don't Go to Chattanooga" or the young and luckless military recruits in "Swollen But Not the Same." And Bare does toss some truly engaging surrealism into the mix, most notably the fake celebrity roll call of "Rock and Roll Halloween" and the unique weaponry of "Liz Taylor's Lipstick Gun." A Storm, A Tree, My Mother's Head captures Bare on a strong streak as a songwriter, and while the performances are engagingly loose, the band -- anchored by Tom Blankenship, Carl Broemel, and Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket -- shows some welcome signs of precision on these recordings that give the tunes the body and force they deserve. No one should have to lose their marriage or have their mother break some vertebrae to make a great album, but if nothing else, Bare had been able to turn some tough times into some of his strongest work to date, though hopefully the next album will come a bit easer for him.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming