With the growing list of punk-turned-roots acts (see Greg Graffin of Bad Religion’s excellent 2006 effort, Cold as the Clay, or anything John Doe of X and Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees have been up to for many years for further evidence…) one could assume that an acoustic singer/songwriter project is the going retirement plan for punks seeking solace from the hustle and bustle of crusty noise and leather.
Add to that list front man for long-time punk rock politicos Avail, Tim Barry, and his latest unplugged foray, Manchester, his second for Denver’s Suburban Home Records. Songs like the anti-authoritarian album opener “Texas Cops” clearly display the old piss, fists, and vinegar of Avail, despite their acoustic chug-a-lug rhythms. The album even includes a retooled version of Avail’s “This November,” which sneaks into the lineup comfortably.
Beer pounding, fist pumping, politically-charged drinking anthems are in no short supply, but are thankfully well-balanced with slower, heart-on-the-sleeve ballads, and some solid Americana.
Certain songs tread thematically threadbare ground, such as “South Hill,” about a soldier in the ongoing (and going) Iraq war. But the missteps are balanced with some truly excellent songs.
“C.R.F. (Retired)” is an expertly crafted everyman’s tale, and “Sagacity Gone,” is chock full of the kind of rousing, old fashioned stomp & circumstance that effortlessly rousts out the little person in side all of us that says, “Fuck it. Let’s get drunk.”
But where Barry finds his greatest strength is in the songs furthest removed from the thrash-and-burn of Avail. His honest and direct bruised-knuckles and broken heart songwriting is most striking in slower, sadder songs.
“Ronnie Song” would feel perfectly at home on Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, and “Tacoma” is perhaps one of the best break-up songs written this year. “Watch the clouds roll in, watch the clouds roll in/don’t give me that shit about friends/ I’ve been there for you all along, but I’ll never be there for you again.”
While track to track Manchester is a mixed bag, the hits here far outweigh the misses, resulting in a worthy entry to the country-by-way-of-punk canon, and further shortening that mean ol’ road between Black Flag and the Man in Black.
– Pete Klockau