For a guy who loves the leisurely rhythms of southern life, it’s been a hectic couple of months for Tim Barry: he’s already toured the states twice with Avail, the cult fave hardcore/rock/punk band he’s fronted since 1991; jetted to Europe for a string of solo dates; and put down ten tracks for a solo disc, Rivanna Junction, on indie label Suburban Home.
Now, on the eve of yet another stretch on the road this tour, as a singer-songwriter, which includes three gigs in one night in NYC — Barry’s calling from his dilapidated, 100-year-old home in Richmond, Virginia to talk about Rivanna Junction, which will hit stores November 21, 2006.
As he’s done throughout his career, Barry, 35, built the disc on personal relationships, recording over a two-week span at a palâ€™s home studio, backed by an array of musicians, most of them friends or family members. The recording process, he says, “was a shit ton of fun. And what made it a lot of fun was having folks come in without knowing the songs, having them hear the songs with clean ears, and then throwing down.”
In many ways, the recording has little in common with the loud-hard-fast powerchord riffage of Avail. It’s a spare, largely acoustic collection of tunes, a melange of old country, folk, and roots rock carried by Barry’s crisp voice. You could call it a distillation of the music he’s been listening to for many years, as well as a reflection of his blue-collar existence (when he’s not on tour, Barry toils as a stage production assistant for a ballet company.)
Sonically, the disc snakes and twists like a muddy Appalachian river, changing in tempo and intensity from the joyful hill-country stomp of “Trash Inspirations” to the piano-driven slow burn of “Cardinal in Red Bed,” before building to a climax with the propulsive country-rock of “Wait at Milano.” It’s a gorgeous ride, a showcase for Barry’s beautiful, bruised heart-on-sleeve songwriting.
Guest performers include brother James Barry (piano) and sister Caitlin Barry (violin), both classically trained musicians, as well as local bluegrass star Billy Lux (bass), and frequent collaborators Josh Small (guitar and dobro) and Lance Koehler (drums).
Lyrically, Barry has long chronicled the tough side of life, penning songs that grapple with alienation and loneliness, anger and resentment. But in recent years, his lyrical palette has expanded exponentially, and his solo songs — including those on Rivanna Junction and 2005′s Laurel Street Demo are probably the most direct, naked, and moving hes ever sung. “I didn’t set out to write a record that would expose myself,” he says. “All the words just came out naturally. I don’t think I struggled with any of the words on the record.”
Barry’s also cultivated a strong storytelling voice, writing vivid narratives about ill-fated, hard-luck characters and folks who end up in prison for “28 long years,” or “drink till the shaking stops,” or hop aboard a rumbling freight train with â€œsome whiskey and some smokes,and searching for “time to think it all out” while riding the rails.
Many of the tales were inspired by real events. “Dog Bumped,” Barry says, is based loosely on the true story of a friend doing multiple decades in the penitentiary for murder; another song was spurred by a neighbor who lost the title to the house her family had lived in for generations, wound up homeless, and, while drunk, tried to hurl herself in front of a moving train as Barry watched. “I pushed her off the tracks,” he recalls. “I was shook outta my mind.”
Barry says his storytelling approach is simple: live, experience, and write about it. “I always say, “If you don’t live or you don’t do nothing, you’ll have nothing to write about.” That may be a Woody Gutherie ripoff, but it’s true,” he explains.