Omni Recording unearthed two of Bobby Bare's odder RCA albums for their 2006 two-fer, A Bird Named Yesterday/Talk Me Some Sense. Of the two, A Bird Named Yesterday is the stranger, and rather awkward in how it pairs recitations with spooky progressive country-folk in a concept album about a small town. Theme albums have always been a favorite of country artists, 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 noted 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 individual songs, 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 Jerry Foster & Bill 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.
Talk Me Some Sense isn't as overtly odd as A Bird Named Yesterday, but it's every bit a product of its era as that album, particularly in how it captures the two opposing forces within folk of the '60s: how the rolling acoustic guitars and heavy harmonies brought folk into the mainstream and how protest songs strived to keep folk topical and out of the mainstream. As a product of RCA Nashville's Chet Atkins-supervised studios of the '60s, Talk Me Some Sense is a lush, even luxurious record, as Bare's deep baritone is given heavy reverb which grants him plenty of space -- space that's filled with an army of acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies, dobros, strings, horns and harmonicas, giving this a soft, hazy, even impressionistic feel that's enveloping and comforting, even when Bare is singing about "All the Good Times Are Past and Gone." That song embodies many of the contradictions of Talk Me Some Sense -- it's lazy but jaunty, sounding rather friendly, even humorous, even though the title spells out clearly the pathos running throughout the song. That's a stronger indication about how the album is multi-layered than how the anti-protest song sentiment of the title song -- where Bare directly attacks a songwriter who sings "songs of agitation and usin' funny rhymes/The whole new trend and your preachin' friend is a great big waste of time" -- is undercut by how Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" immediately follows in its wake, and then a few songs later, he sings the straight-up protest tune "What Color (Is A Man)." These moves feel so deliberate it's hard not to think that Bare is winking when he sings "Talk Me Some Sense," but it's still a masterpiece of lush '60s progressive country in how it tackles big issues with big sounds, and the reason the album as a whole works is that big production which makes the various strands of the album -- almost all good songs, but not songs that necessarily cohere thematically -- hold together in its warm, overblown production that's an artifact of the '60s in the best possible sense. To these two albums, Omni has added a handful of bonus tracks, almost all making their CD debut. From This I Believe, there's "When I've Learned"; two songs from Margie's at the Lincoln Park Inn -- "The Law Is for the Protection of the People" and "If There's Not a Hell (There Out to Be)" -- and four songs from singles: "Sandy's Crying Again," "When Am I Ever Gonna Settle Down," "Don't Do Like I Done Son" and "The Town That Broke My Heart." It all adds up to the best portrait of Bobby Bare as a progressive country musician -- both in what he sang, and how he recorded -- yet documented on CD.