Rick Barry has been at the forefront of the music scene ever since he released Small Town Politics back in 2005. He followed that debut with substantial efforts such as Declaration Of Codependence in 2007 and This Antediluvian World in 2009. He followed that up with 2013’s emotional Postdiluvian World.
If there’s one thing I can say about Rick Barry, it’s that he doesn’t give up no matter what the situation becomes. Music has always been in his blood and dominated his immediate life. Many others from the same period have disbanded, moved on with other responsibilities or goals, leaving music and performance in the dust of time and life’s fate, but Rick continues to create deeply moving music in his distinct style.
Known for his uncensored melancholia, the “neo-folk” Asbury Park-based singer/guitarist Rick Barry explores the terrain of failed love affairs and paralyzing self-doubt. And while his resume boasts numerous awards and accolades such as winning the grand prize for his song “Courage For A Rainy Day” in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, among others, he dwells not in the past but is constantly looking to the future of what his music will become.
Rick Barry and the band scored a great gig over the summer, playing the famed Lincoln Center in New York City and wowing both locals and out-of-towners with his effervescent musical flavor. As a follow up to that musical pinnacle, Rick Barry took to the studio with New York Guitar Festival Founder and Artistic Director David Spelman to bring his next batch of musical gems to life
For this venture Rick dug down deep, hiring key musicians such as three-time Grammy winner multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm), eclectic jazz cellist Erik Friedlander (Alanis Morissette), upright bassist Chris Kuffner (Ingrid Michaelson) and trumpeter C.J. Camerieri (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens), and complemented by the lush backing vocals from both Allie Moss (Ingrid Michaelson) and Nicole Atkins.
His latest release is titled Curses, Maledictions And Harsh Reiterations and features eight intricate songs that cover everything about life, love and the joys and disappointments of our existence. I took a few minutes to go through the songs, and this is what I came up with.
The first track up is called “So Soft, So Sweet” and features the guitar, mandolin, fiddle and dobro work of Larry Campbell. Rick begins the song rolling off sweet acoustic chords on his Taylor before singing into his first personal verse. Barry’s voice is toned and mellow, sending out a myriad of poetic imagery as he tells his tale. Campbell’s volume swelled guitar notes kick in and out with perfection as Barry winds into his chorus with the backing assist of Nicole Atkins. Atkins adds the perfect sonic harmony to Barry’s melodic presentation. Campbell’s violin work is supportive and arranged for excellent delivery. The horn work of C.J. Camerieri is an underrated piece of brilliance and lays perfectly within the mix, adding an almost ethereal touch to the overall piece.
“Hummingbird Song” is up next and once again features Rick at his very best image pushing style. Featuring James from Gay Blades on backing vocals along with Allie Moss, “Hummingbird Song” sets sail on this lazy, hazy romp through that crazy theme of love. Arlen Feiles chips in on glockenspiel and the horn work of C.J. Camerieri shines brightly as well. Bouncy and melodically tight, “Hummingbird Song” is classic Rick Barry. Simple, catchy and filled with visual imagery beyond most artist’s scope, Rick lays it out with classy style along the likes of stars such as Jeff Tweedy and Ben Bridwell. Camerieri’s horn work at the end of the song is a jazzy reminder of The Rolling Stones’ “I’m Just Waiting On A Friend.”
“Removing The Stitches” is up next and features the pitch perfect assist of Allie Moss. Rick Barry’s use of wordplay to get his point across is stellar here. Using the image of stitches in the role of romance repair is far from pretty. The piano work of Glen Patcha is perfectly set into the arrangement, rising and falling as needed to make this song a perfect track. Moss is a perfect accompaniment for Barry, and she is a featured vocalist on much of this disc.
“Beatrice” takes center stage next. This is old school Rick Barry. Utilizing an almost waltzing stride, Rick dances through verses of regret and confessions of a well-lived life as cellist Erik Friedlander covers the song with beautifully blue lines of introspective instrumentation. Campbell pulls steel guitar lines across the songs visual plain, bringing forth recollections of Buddy Emmons. Rick strums steady swaths of acoustic rhythm and keeps the song plugging away. Barry has always utilized an almost melancholy feel to his music, and that comes across here well. Some don’t like that part of Rick Barry, but I happen to love it.
Up next we have “Where Do The Seasons Get Their Names.” Featuring a great cello intro solo (reportedly made up on the spot in the studio) from Erik Friedlander, Rick joins in and puts the wheels in motion. Strummed acoustics churn under Campbell’s incredible steel work before the rest of the band kicks in. Standup bass work from Chris Kuffner floats this folkie ballad high on the plain of Barry’s lyrical platform. Tackling the topic of seasonal moments, Barry focuses on the fleeting remnants of time. Hiring bigger named players to perform on this CD was a smart move for a couple of reasons. First, it never hurts to have famous names when it comes to promotion of any product, but also hiring guys like this means you get those time tested results quickly. From what I hear on this disc I can sense the years of experience and musical expertise that can’t be gotten from anyone that hasn’t spent this kind of time on the road or in the studio. The compositional directive is catchy and singable and should do quite well on alternative radio.
“Wanderlust” is next and features the fine rhythmic support of drummer Slim Cain. Barry squeezes out some challenging chord changes on this one before he is joined by the rest of the group. C.J. blows out a great opening line as Campbell pulls steel into the mix. He also handles some complex mandolin lines while Barry and Nicole Atkins give us some seamless oohs and ahs. This is another song that should get some attention from radio as it has all the components of a traditionally born slice of modern music. C.J. is back in the ending to pull out some fantastic horn lines. Patcha’s keyboard work is also well defined in the tune and warbles into the end.
Rick’s next song is called “A Perfect Portrait.” Rick vocalizes his most honest view of himself, stating at one point, “Of all the names I’ve known before I relate the most to Judas. Say what you will, at least the man was ambitious. Some silver for his purse and when it came time to choose, he traded in his fortune for the comfort of a noose. And I’d never be so courageous.” Typical of Barry’s style, it’s both dark and profound in meaning. With imagery of harsh life descriptions and situations, Barry steeps himself in an almost spiritual baptism of regret and self-depreciation. Campbell stays in the back, trilling mandolins and slide guitar as Barry confesses all to the world.
The last song up is the most mysterious of any I’ve ever heard Rick cover. Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” is the song Rick chose to close out his record. Accompanied on acoustic guitar and Larry Campbell on pedal steel, Rick delivers one of the best versions of this famous tune that I’ve ever heard. And while it might seem strange for most, to me, it fits like a glove. Mancini is one of my favorite writers, and while it was a bit of a real surprise for me, Barry pulled it off with panache to spare. C.J.’s horn work in the bridge is melodically perfect, and he stays pure to the song’s original heart. Listening to Rick’s chord usage with Campbell soaring softly underneath is a sheer joy to the ears and I was euphoric with the results.
Rick Barry continues to show that he’s far from finished when it comes to having something vital to say musically. Curses, Maledictions And Harsh Reiterations is a beautiful record, and I hope that this is the one that puts him over the top and out into the world where people outside the Tri-State Area will have the opportunity to hear one of New Jersey’s finest writers.
You’ll have the chance to see and hear Rick Barry on Saturday, Oct. 22, at The Asbury Hotel, the latest and greatest hotel over on Fifth Ave in Asbury Park, NJ. Joining Rick will be special guests Tara Dente and Ian Colleti. For more information on Curses, Maledictions And Harsh Reiterations, and Rick Barry, head over to www.rickbarrymusic.com.