Bobby Bare

A Bird Named Yesterday

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Theme albums have always been a favorite of country music, with plenty of singers devoting themselves to the work of a particular songwriter, or songs about a particular subject, whether it's gunfighters, heartbreak, or drinking. However, concept albums are an entirely different animal than theme albums, since they tell a particular story. On their 2002 reissue of Bobby Bare's 1967 album A Bird Named Yesterday, Audium/Koch notes that this is "Nashville's VERY FIRST concept album" -- a fact that may or may not be strictly true, but it is certainly one of the first story-oriented concept albums in country history. According to the original liner notes, Jack Clement is the one who conceived this nostalgic trip through a small town and how modernity has changed it, and he wrote six of the nine songs, crafting this evocation of a storybook Americana past. It's designed to be more about myth and memory than about an individual song, so each tune is open-ended, even if each is prefaced by lengthy, specific recitations by Bare. These recitations slow down the momentum of the album and give away the fact that it was recorded in the early days of concept albums, when musicians and producers thought it was necessary to state the story plainly in prose. Songwise, Clement's songs are typically sturdy, though he does veer into some pretty corny territory quite often over the course of the record, a sentiment that is emphasized by the incessant narration. There are no classics here, but there are highlights, including the sweet title track, "I've Got a Thing About Trains," "They Covered Up the Old Swimmin' Hole," and the Foster & Rice song "The Day the Saw Mill Closed Down," which captures the nostalgic vibe better than many of Clement's tunes. And while nostalgia is the impetus for the entire A Bird Named Yesterday, several decades after its release the album evokes not just the nostalgia it intends, but another wistful sentiment -- they simply don't make records like this anymore. As a result, it's a time machine unlike what it was meant to convey, and while it's not a trip you'd want to take every day, it's nice to know you can, when you want to relive two eras at once.

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