Growing up with Shel Silverstein for a godfather, Bobby Bare Jr. was born into the world of storytellers, learning early on that a good yarn has less to do with plot than with feeling. This lesson is demonstrated well in the deflated tone of “My Baby Took My Baby Away,” a song he co-wrote with Hayes Carll from his latest album Undefeated.
“Oh, yeah, I’m angry,” he says, half-joking about the track. “Having a baby is like having the best-looking guy move into your house and take away your girl. You have to love the baby, that’s effortless, but you have to accept that you are no longer number one.”
Bare has three kids, two with his ex-wife and a son with his ex-girlfriend. On the confessional Undefeated—his first release in four years and first on Bloodshot Records since 2006—listeners get a sense of what’s been happening outside the studio.
“It’s a getting-dumped record,” Bare says. “My ex-girlfriend made it clear she did not want to hear my feelings or emotions, so I put them all down here. If I can get a room full of people to laugh along with my sad, miserable songs, well, that’s something.”
There’s irony in the album’s title, of course, as Bare suggests in the reverb-drenched, doo-woppy title track (a tone further enhanced by producer Vance Powell, a Grammy-winning engineer known for his work with Jack White). With the album to help him through, his ex relies on steely self-resolve as he sings, “There’ll be no signs of emotion/As she’s slipping away,” then to the refrain, “She’s undefeated/Too afraid to feel it.”
No stranger to heartbreak, Junior’s colorful catalog, a wild romp of albums that span punk, alt-country, and rock, is full of whiskey-soaked, sad-sack tracks. His singular style—rootsy, offbeat songs rendered with self-deprecating humor—is intentional; the songwriter has often said he doesn’t want to sound like his father, Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare Sr.
But like his dad—who survived the untimely passing of friends and collaborators like Silverstein, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, and even a daughter (Bare Jr.’s sister)—his career hinges on what he makes of his personal relationships. Such material is revealed firsthand, along with Bare’s showmanship and the pratfalls of the touring life, in a 2012 documentary about him called Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost)—screening for free at 6 p.m. Sunday at the JewelBox Theater at the Rendezvous.
“I tried to get them to call the movie Bobby Bare Jr.: The World’s Greatest Lover,” he says, “but they decided to name it [after] a song I wrote on the album From the End of Your Leash.” It was a good move by the filmmaking team, which includes director William Miller and Erin Nordstrom—who edited the Wilco doc (also named for a sad-sack song) I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
Looking back, Bare, who turns 48 at the end of June, is satisfied with how far he’s come. “I can’t believe it, I really can’t,” he says. “I wish someone would have whispered in my ear back in my 20s when I was working a shitty job at Kinkos that I would make a living doing this. Man, I would have never had an unhappy day in my life. And every girl who ever dumped me, I could say, ‘Oh yeah, baby, but someday I’ll be touring with Guided by Voices.’ ”
Of the iconic indie group, he says, “I’ve always been envious of my friends who got to tour with them, and now I get to do it. I can’t wait to see them every night; I just hope people come out to see me, because you know they’re going to play for, like, four hours.”
BOBBY BARE JR. With Guided by Voices. The Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 628-3151, showboxpresents.com. $35 adv./$40 DOS. 8 p.m. Sun., June 8.