When the punks go ‘acoustic’, it seems they head down one pre-defined path – they play punk music with an acoustic guitar. Now I’ve no problem with that, but they really stand out when they do something a little more unexpected. For me, Tim Barry is one of the few that veered off the beaten track. The former Avail frontman, swapped the harshness of punk for a, more mellow, country sound. Though he’s certainly not ‘gone soft’.
Well known for his story-telling style, Barry enchants the listener with tales of small towns, friends and adventure. Some of these you might have heard of – references to a couple of characters named Frank and Brian make up the opening to the title track, and there’s even a whole song about, Lucero’s, Todd Beene – and others you won’t. Still, he makes you feel like you’re right there alongside him throughout and you experience a lot and run the emotional gamut when you’re riding with Tim. Driver Pull’ – a song about dealing with life and all its inherent problems – showcases a much sombre side of the Virginia native, whereas ‘Amen’ will have you singing along in no time.
Similarly, ‘Fine Foods Market’ shows Barry at his most satirical. The entire song is a comment on the current ‘scene’, with a particular focus on the falseness of hipsters. It worked as a perfect palette cleanser for all of the more downbeat tracks on the album, and might actually be my favourite. Again it draws on Barry’s own experiences, as he looks back on his life and compares it to what he sees in the youth of today. Though it could come across as slightly curmudgeonly, it is delivered with such style and humor that you can’t help but love it. Is Tim Barry the Larry David of the punk scene?
Such quick changes in tone did tend to stop the record from flowing quite as well as it could have, but this is a minor gripe when you take the quality of the songs into account. The switch from acoustic to electric and back again had a similar effect, but the changes in instrumentation certainly make for a more interesting sonic experience.
Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that 40 Miler is Tim Barry’s best release to date. As with everything he’s put out, the songs are steeped in truth and adventure and provide a fantastic look into the world of a very interesting man. Not only that, but songs like ‘Hobo Lullaby’ have helped establish, in my mind at least, that Barry is one of the best songwriters around today. Though there’s a little bit of filler here and there, on the whole, it’s a pretty fantastic record. It can bring you down, but never fails to pull you back up again. If you like sober thoughts and singalongs, this is the record for you.