Symbolism has always been an aptly wielded tool in the hands of Rick Barry. His research into the world’s history of human customs and tireless compositional forays into empathetic personal territories have resulted in the adoration and rebuke from more than a few converts on their journey to a melancholy redemption.
The valley-wide imagery that seizes the mind on Rick’s latest CD, This Postdiluvian World, is that of a stark and solitary outcry. The isolated lyrical gnashing of teeth as ghosts from the past brand the present with inspirational solace is achieved in spades here.
While researching past work, I couldn’t ignore the timeline metaphor in his biblical flood references when it came to creating his project titles and their applications.
His 2009 release was titled This Antediluvian World, and to me, that represents some the most misunderstood work Rick has to offer. I say this because even though his writing was communicative and sound, it was camouflaged through the dissonance of production and commercial sullying of said work. Longtime fans remained indifferent at the grandiose scale this project tried to achieve. In the end, they couldn’t make him into Colin Meloy and abandoned the project for sugar pop pastures.
This Postdiluvian World is a brand new opportunity based off of that original attempt at Rick Barry stepping into a larger, band-oriented arena. Consisting of two new productions and three earlier released singles, this is a project of redemption and rebirth. And, just as Noah found after the flood, this direction is anew and filled with hope. Barry makes sure to lobby for the resolution of his musical species, and his ongoing battle to survive on his own terms is unwavering, despite the vacancy of proverbial kings and musical concubines who sit on their Nashville spun perches and lob countermeasures at the entrance to the kingdom.
This Postdiluvian World flies in on a Tchaikovsky music box intro that features approaching, stereo panned, and gravel crunching footsteps as Barry and producer, drummer Andy Bova, launch into “Our Mutual Friend.”
“Our Mutual Friend” combines big, 1950s drenched guitars and EQ’d sound effect decoys that deteriorate to make way for stripped down four-four drums, linear basslines and jagged guitars. Barry beams supernova messages of apprehension across the apogee. This song makes me want to light up a Benson & Hedges, pop the top on a Carling Black Label and stare into the afternoon, seaside sun. The intimate vocal styling of Barry and Emily Whitt remind me of Don McLean and Harriet Wheeler, and they lob melodic flares into the sky of this groaning, simple elegance. Bova pulls the big bang theory with trash can-size drums and analog cranked echo dropped far into the overload cycle. With its message of consolation, protection and welcoming back to a place remembered well, this song beckons the listener back to Rick Barry’s best brush with positivism.
“Leave It Up To Luck” draws the listener straight into 1985 and the myriad of bands that ran two-string drones and four on the floor beats, synths and sound effects. While spatially different than his previous releases, this is the same kind of arrangement that didn’t fit Barry in 2009. While it has its many listenable moments, I believe excessive production takes away from what makes Barry important here, namely, his intimacy. Rick isn’t a Robert Smith or a Justin Vernon; he is a storyteller with a delicately balanced style that’s closer to a Samuel Beam, and the instrumentation steps all over him here. As far as the song’s lyrical content, it’s forthcoming and sound. The underlying communication is one of logical pessimism, and the words “So just keep dreaming and keep on believing, at least then you’ve got something, even if that thing you believe in’s a lie,” makes perfect sense in a world gone mad.
“A Curse” comes out of the gate dark and dynamic, pianos tucked in the back, echoed synths lines fly with layered dissonance and it’s a good attempt at presenting the dark artist in a jaded light. But honestly, the snare drum stands so far out front with its retro chisel and scrape that it is competing with the vocal. There’s a short respite as the drum disappears for a bit, leaving pianos to float with Rick’s buoyant vocal, but then it’s back after the bridge. For me, “A Curse” is hexed by a drum part that would have been way more powerful if pushed deep into the background of the mix. It’s too distracting and is something I would fix before the next disc run.
“A Cautionary Tale” sees Barry back with bright and brash six-string acoustic and voice. The synths come in on their tide of reserved timing and the melodic single note guitar sensibilities hum over the top. At 1:56, the instrumental hook is set and the number slow jumps like a head shaking tarpon as rhythms pick the tune up and shift it forward. Barry rides this musical surf to the beach utilizing the catchy instrumental support to drive his poignant point home. Self doubt, regret for the frozen inability to change and the black and utter loneliness of abandonment come across well, making this one of the best confessional tunes to date.
“Annie In Stereo” (previously released in 2011) is a track that comes together to convey everything Rick Barry has aptly constructed in song. Is this solely about a girl and the end of her life? Is this the mourning of a soul focused on many things in an existence grown tired? Or is this the analogy, the culmination of things and times of our mirrored personal existence?
The lyrical compassion and heartache grind against the defenses of survival and troubled caution. Clashing the juxtaposition struggles of good versus conscience stirring apathy, kindness versus stoic contention. The impossible lottery of salvation taps at the shoulder, taunting us all of its presence.
There’s a line in the song that brings up relatable reflections when Rick says, “You made a mixed tape before you left, I found it next to the letter on your desk. It said, ‘If you’re reading this I’m already gone.’ And you claimed your life could be found in those songs. All that happiness and heartbreak on a 90-minute mixed tape. Oh and Annie, all of those melodies, from Jeff Buckley to Buffalo Tom. When I hear them I feel weak and diseased, still I find myself singing along and you’re no longer now the loneliest one.”
The single note piano melody is so effective in its overly simplified offering. It lifts the spirit in eight little notes, ushering emotional exhilaration into the listener’s core. It is one of the cleverest production additions to the disc.
And speaking of production, Andy Bova did a great job here. Bova’s realization that the best way to control a project succinctly is to release it shines bright on This Postdiluvian World. The small list of things I would do differently aside, I have to give extraordinary marks for continuity, arrangement and creativity.
Kudos go out to Justin Borneman – bass on “Luck” and “Our Mutual Friend”; James Stahon – additional guitars on “Our Mutual Friend” and “Luck”; Keith McCarthy – additional guitars on “Luck”; Emily Whitt – guest vocals on “Our Mutual Friend”; and Robert Butkowski – lap steel.
Rick Barry is rarely a feel-good writer of unicorn heroes and lollipop endings, and that’s one of the reasons that I cheer him on. It takes a certain individual to choose and stick with the paths he has taken without bending to the mostly novice, journalistic analysis whispered about him on a weekly basis.
His tenacious ability to soldier through the murky end of this business and continue to come up with compositional intelligence leaves me shaking my head at people that have had the opportunity for moving him up the ladder and have abandoned originality to chase erotic little pop stars in “the world beyond.”
This Postdiluvian World is an open-ended exploration of a refocused writer who has jettisoned the baggage of commercial delusion and remains devoted to his unique perspective of art. If you think that’s an easy task, I’ve got a really hot Asbury club to sell you.
For more information on Rick Barry and This Postdiluvian World, head over to rickbarry.bandcamp.com.