The Moon Was Blue
obby Bare is a country and pop classic. He’s graced Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart over 50 times, has had five pop top 40 hits as well, owns a Grammy (for “Detroit City,” 1963’s “Best Country & Western Recording”), is credited by some with recording country’s first “concept” album (1973’s album of Shel Silverstein songs [yes, that Shel Silverstein], Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies), and no less than Robert Christgau called Bare “a Nashville veteran with a great ear” in a 1979 review. Yet he’s not released a solo album in 22 years. What gives?
What gives is that like so many country vets, by the early ‘80s the radio hits had dried up, and Bare had had it. So he just—stopped. Until his son Bobby Bare Jr. (known for his bands Bare Jr. and the Young Criminals Starvation League) convinced his Dad that there was more to be said, and hauled him into the studio with Jr. and Lambchop’s Mark Nevers behind the boards. The resulting The Moon Was Blue is no Van Lear Rose, however; this is more along the lines of what those wretched Rod Stewart standards albums might sound like if they were actually, y’know, good. And this is really good.
Bare was one of the first Nashville artists to soak his records in strings and pile on the backing singers, aware that “countrypolitan” was, at the time, the way to go. Thus, hearing him—well, not exactly croon; let’s say strongly sing—strongly sing songs such as “Are You Sincere” with female backup singers cooing “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby” as the strings go all syrupy isn’t all that jarring. Hell, I would’ve loved to hear Cash cut a record like this, just to see what he’d do/where he’d go with it.
“Love Letters in the Sand” is famous to most thanks to Pat Boone’s version, a ‘50’s easy listening landmark. Bare Jr. and Nevers don’t play it so different here, with lush Muzak-y vocals complementing Bare’s own, as a mandolin and clarinet flavor the background (with a few quiet chords on the vibes to close things out). It’d hardly be a Bobby Bare album without a song by the aforementioned Silverstein; his “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” sounds like a Bare classic you somehow missed the first time around. Its arrangement here is essentially as if Bare cut it in his late ‘60s/early ‘70s heyday—check out the way he nearly growls “waded past the crowd” in the bridge.
Between the expert way Bare sings a song and the superb production he’s given by Bare Jr. and Nevers, The Moon Was Blue goes from strength to strength across its eleven selections. “My Heart Cries for You,” for instance, a song co-written by Percy Faith, packs a punch in only 1:20, thanks to its music-hall-in-wartime piano, and Bare’s similar-sounding vocal. It’s followed by “It’s All in the Game,” a #1 smash in 1958 for Tommy Edwards, which Bare sings like a fallen angel. This album isn’t just about the classic songs and Bare’s classic singing, however, as the subtle touches added by Bare Jr. and Nevers add up, too—such as the undercurrent of feedback and radio static in “Am I That Easy to Forget.”
Don’t go thinking this is some sort of trapped-in-amber album, either. The Moon Was Blue is the sound of an artist re-finding himself musically, one can only hope to embark upon a new chapter in his career. Bobby Bare has, rather unexpectedly, crafted an album that is one of 2005’s boldest musical statements of purpose, if not of return. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 22 years for Bare to record and release his next solo album.