Backyard Tire Fire | Good To Be (!K7)

This record never stays in one place for long—much like the band itself.

Kicking off the record with a tense guitar riff that eventually gives way to a funky percussion-laden groove, “Roadsong #39” seems to perfectly sum up the ascending career trajectory of this Bloomington, Ill., trio. Their fifth album, Good To Be, is full of references to the band’s journey from twang-rock indie kids in a van to a musical powerhouse with high-profile fans including Jim Heath, Jimbo Mathus and Warren Haynes. Just a few years ago my old band shared the stage with them at the venerable St. Louis club Off Broadway, but they’ve since graduated to larger stages at the Wakarusa Festival and opening for Los Lobos. As they sing on the record, “Things are much better these days than the days before”.

In fact, Los Lobos keyboardist/sax man Steve Berlin lends his production skills and musical talents to the new release, resulting in a fascinating mix of layered production and raw energy. The band could easily bash things out as a power trio, but the depth of Berlin’s production combined with guitarist/vocalist Ed Anderson’s enthralling songwriting holds this listener’s interest after repeated listens.
At times echoing the working class rock of John Mellencamp, Tom Petty and Steve Earle this record never stays in one place for long—much like the band itself. Both the album opener and the ridiculously catchy “A Thousand Gigs Ago” are odes to the life of the touring musician, offering lines like “I can’t remember where it was we were goin’/ I just recall where I was last night/ I ain’t so good with names but I remember faces,” and “Can’t remember where it was we were stayin’/ I lost track of where the hotel’s at/ can’t find the key, dunno the number/ I guess I’ll just sleep in the van out back” Anderson’s earnest, blue-collar delivery just makes you know every word is true.
Another highlight on the album, “Learning To Swim,” opens with orchestral cymbal swells and jangly strums on an acoustic guitar before segueing into a staccato sing-along recalling the old days of the band “pinchin’ pennies through the laundry load” and “livin’ in a one-room shack by the side of the road.” Anderson seems to be using this song to acknowledge the band’s successes without patting themselves on the back too hard. Berlin’s baritone sax, layered with effects, is used to great effect in a brief solo before the song terminates in a symphonic orgy of keys, tympani and cymbals.
Critics and listeners alike may initially shake their heads a bit at the vast variety that this record offers. From song to song you often wonder if you’re listening to the same band. And while some may cite this as evidence of the band lacking a singular style, I posit it as proof that these three Midwestern boys have simply created one of those rare records that can be enjoyed equally as a whole or one fantastic song at a time; every tune is an absolute gem. A- | Corey Woodruff

RIYL: Son Volt, Steve Earle, Centro-matic, Bobby Bare Jr.

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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