In the decade they've been on the road, Backyard Tire Fire has called many small towns home -- Ashville NC, Athens GA, and currently, Bloomington IL. Staying away from the centers of the music biz has served them well. They've never been tied down to any particular scene, so the songwriting of head man Ed Anderson and the playing of the rhythm section -- brother Matt Anderson on bass and drummer Tim Kramp -- is free to range far and wide, covering the rock spectrum from roots rock to Brit-pop. The small town vibe also permeates the band's lyrics and attitude, giving the tunes a working-class veracity that puts them in the company of populist artists like Springsteen and Bob Seger, able to shine a light on the small heroic moments of everyday life without any self-consciously arty moves. This is especially notable on the songs Anderson writes about life on the road with a touring band. Most writers who attempt to chronicle the misadventures of the rock & roll life string together tired clichés hoping that the very fact that they're in a band will give the tunes some oomph. Not Anderson. "Road Song #39" opens the album with a slow, bluesy grind augmented by some simple organ fills laid down by Steve Berlin. It's a sweaty, nasty tune, with a warts-and-all look at life on the road and Berlin's organ adding a hint of roadhouse R&B. The sound is still rooted in country and roots rock, but Berlin (Los Lobos) has pushed the band out of their comfort zone without messing with their winning combination. Berlin plays piano on "Good to Be," another glimpse of road life without any romantic illusions, and a sinister tune that sounds like it comes from the midway tent of a dark carnival. Bleeding fingers from crappy guitar strings, not getting paid, and cars that just barely get them from gig to gig are dismissed as "a minor inconvenience," because they're just happy to be playing music, although Anderson's vocal ironic vocal is less than enthusiastic. "A Thousand Gigs Ago" is a slow, melodic rocker that could have been written by Ian Hunter, a salute to the mixture of excitement and confusion that makes the touring life addictive. The album's other love songs cover a lot of emotional (and geographical) ground. "Brady" tips hits hat to the music of Tom Petty, but Anderson's vocal style is more sincere. The song tells of a young man looking for "love" in the brothels of Amsterdam with a catchy, singalong chorus and subtle percussion accents from Tim Kramp that lift you up despite the downbeat subject matter. "Estelle" is a story song that sounds like the Eagles backed by the Beatles, a moody tale of a single working mother full of compassion and lush vocal harmonies. Anderson's solo is midway between George Harrison and Don Rich. The most countrified song here is "Hell and Back" although it's disguised as a pop/rock tune. It's a rough-and-tumble love song with a neat lyrical twist and a great, clanging country guitar line.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet