Rumbling out of semi-retirement -- he plays shows fairly regularly in Nashville but doesn't tour much and hasn't -- Bobby Bare turns in a remarkable record with 2012's Darker Than Light. Returning to the legendary RCA Studio B -- the same place he cut many of his earliest sides -- with producer Don Cusic in tow, Bare tackles folk chestnuts with the support of a band of pros anchored by guitarists Buddy Miller and Randy Scruggs, musicians who match Bare's well-weathered but hardly worn-out growl. Strictly speaking, not every song here is a folk tune -- he revives U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," which is now close to a standard, and he covers Alejandro Escovedo's "I Was Drunk," plus he sets the Shel Silverstein poem "The Devil and Billy Markham" to music, thereby making an important connection to his classic '70s albums, which were heavy on Silverstein tunes. Still, the core of the album lies in these imaginatively reworked folk tunes, with Bare digging into such sturdy standards as "John Hardy" and "Shenandoah," finding new wrinkles within these overly familiar tunes. Bare doesn't turn the songs inside out so much as expand them, so "Boll Weevil" winds up grooving on a back-porch stomp and "House of the Rising Sun" rolls out on a floating sense of sorrow. Through it all, Bare's voice retains its casual power and grace, and he's clearly invigorated by the ace musicians who surround him. He may be pushing 80, but Bobby Bare never seems old; he sounds like a man in full, happy to be where he is, singing songs he's always loved.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine