I’ve known Rick Barry long before he became an Asbury Park mainstay. I can remember one of the first times I saw him live and immediately noticed his flair for songwriting and storytelling. As a real journeyman of honesty and emotion, Barry weaved tapestries of sadness and glory, happiness and darkened shades of melancholy all made up and dug deep within the character of this complicated writer. Rick Barry has a particular way of self-depreciation that is never warranted or deserved. If there was ever a writer that took things profoundly personal or listened to other opinions of his music and took it to heart, it’s Rick Barry. But the truth is that Barry is no simple pop writer glorifying material things or standard love triangles, and he has never been easy to pigeonhole into a specific category or style that can be easily identified.
Barry’s debut acoustic record, Declaration of Codependence, featured several award-winning songs, two of which — “Graphic Narrative” and “Courage For A Rainy Day” — simultaneously received the grand prize and second place in the John Lennon songwriting contest. And while his resume boasts numerous other awards and accolades, he dwells not in the past but is always looking to the future of what his music will become. Barry cares not one iota about fame. His primary goal is to be able to entertain and engage people in his creative vision, and we’ve discussed this many times.
On his 2016 full length, Curses, Maledictions and Harsh Reiterations, Barry was fortunate enough to collaborate with three-time Grammy winner, Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm); complemented by the lush backing vocals from both Allie Moss (Ingrid Michaelson) and Nicole Atkins.
Recently, Barry and his band performed to a capacity crowd at the world-famous Lincoln Center in NYC as part of the American Songbook Series. “Lincoln Center’s American Songbook is our celebration of great American popular songwriting and the people who sing it. The beauty of Rick Barry’s songwriting and the quality of his performances express the heart of what this series is all about,” said Charles Cermele, Lincoln Center’s Producer for Contemporary Programming.
But Barry hasn’t stopped there. This year he has started work on a 12-song production that features a plethora of friends and well-known faces that have helped him to create the next chapter in the Rick Barry saga.
I recently spoke with Barry who told me that he took the troops out to a Pennsylvania farm studio to record this next album. Players on this disc are a veritable who’s who, and include Barry on vocals, acoustic guitar, Justin Bornemann (dentist) on guitar, Mark Masefield, pianos and organ, Santo Rizzolo, drums, Maggie Rose, vocals — in 2016, CMT named Maggie one of its Next Women of Country, and this year she has toured with Martina McBride and opened dates on Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul tour — Zack Westfall, upright bass. The album is being recorded at The Farm Studios in Westchester, Penn. and is engineered by Eric Tait.
Tait is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer, producer, sound designer, music director and studio owner. He owns and operates The Farm Recording & Production Services. Additionally, Tait freelances as a trumpeter and keyboard player all over the east coast.
The record is being mixed by Tim Panella (worked with Lakehouse) and mastered by Tom Ruff at Asbury Media. Dan Matlack is executive producer and Barry, and Mark Masefield produced.
And while the full-length record is still a few months out from being finished, Barry sent me the latest songs to listen to and give my two cents on as far as what I think about it. So, let’s take a quick look at a couple of the songs that will be featured on Rick Barry’s soon-to-be-released, and yet untitled, 2018 record.
First song up is “The Ardor of Bloom,” a unique look into the sadness of relationship misstarts and emotional looks into the past expectations and the present situation of how things turn out. I immediately notice the piano prowess of Mark Masefield, who powers this shining jewel of melancholy magic. Westfall and Rizzolo do great work on the track, coming in and fading out under acoustic guitars, pianos, and vocals. The vocal assist of Maggie Rose could be a bit more pronounced, as she’s a talented choice for vocal harmonies, but it’s not too far back that I couldn’t make her out completely. Barry has once again come up with a great compositional style, and I love the change at 2:30 when the song starts to modulate and change before heading into the bridge. The melody of “The Ardor of Bloom” brings me back to the heady days of the 1970s when songwriters wrote music that mattered. The chorus is strong and really stands out as a chorus should. Justin Bornemann’s electric guitar work is understated, supportive and placed just right in the mix. Great rhythm work. I listened to this song about 15 times and by the time I was done the melody was stuck deep in my head.
“How to Get Lost in the Crowd” is up next. Barry reminds me of Gram Parsons during his Flying Burrito Brothers timeline. A troubadour, storytelling preacher on the plains, Barry tears into this song with all the relish of a whirling Dervish. Barry credits old bandmates Paperback Radio in the writing credits, but this is classic Barry. Lines like the first chorus, “You said you missed your freedom/But were you ever truly free?/Or do you miss it like a blind man misses seeing things he’s never seen?” tells me this is a Rick Barry song all the way now.
But whatever the case may be, this is another fantastic song that bounces in a country style all its own. Part Levon Helm, part Jackson Browne and part Felice Brothers, “How to Get Lost in a Crowd” is a winner in my book. Bornemann’s guitar work produces the steel-like effect in the verses before hitting the middle-eight for some tremolo-tinged lead work as Masefield chirps on the organ. Masefield also plays throughout the tune, providing toned organ work throughout. Barry’s vocals are as powerful and concise as they’ve always been, lending emotion and intimacy, but he also adds urgency and empathy in spades, and it makes for a great American classic. Maggie Rose chimes in on choruses, bringing the song to another level and giving it that extra life that makes this a real contender.
When I talk with Barry, he tends to kind of put his writing down or downplay what he does in a way that is actually modesty, but he shouldn’t be so modest. He’s one of the really great writers that I know, and he should be proud to be able to put songs like this into the reach of all of us. I cannot wait to hear this entire finished record shortly.
If you would like to hear the songs yourself, head over to rickbarry.bandcamp.com and purchase the “The Ardor of Bloom” and “How to Get Lost in a Crowd” EP for yourself. It’s a two-song sampler, but those two songs are well worth the small cost. I’ll let you know when the record is available in its finished form right here at The Shoreworld.