Bobby Bare: The Travelin’ Bare/Constant Sorrow/The Streets Of Baltimore (Morello Records)

Country singer-songwriter Bobby Bare will forever be known for his fantastic string of comedic hits from the 1970s and early 1980s that were co-written buy songwriter and best friend Shel Silverstein,  and rightly so. Yet his story did not begin there; in the previous decade, he had some terrific hits and a relatively successful career. Morello’s two disc/ three album compilation of Bare’s mid-1960s work offers a delightful foray into the legend’s early years.

But his career he did not exactly start off an easy one. Though talented, in the 1950s he struggled to get a recording contract and when he did get a deal with Capitol records, they will release into near obscurity. In fact he was held in such a little regard that when he recorded what would become one of his most beloved songs, “The All American Boy,” it was erroneously credited to a friend who had helped  him record it. Yet meeting Chet Atkins soon lead him to a new label, RCA, and very quickly the hits started to come, with “Detroit City,” ”500 Miles Away From Home,” and “Four Strong Winds” not only bringing him chart success, but establishing him as a major country talent and earning him a Grammy nomination.

The three albums offered in the set, 1964’s The Travelin’ Bare,  1965’s Constant Sorrow, and 1966’s Streets of Baltimore, are all very much of a piece; produced by Atkins, and featuring many of his stable of talented studio musicians such as Floyd Cramer, Jerry Reed, Waylon Jennings, and Anita Kerr and her singers. Furthermore, the song selection features a healthy mix of bare originals and well selected covers of both contemporary material and songs written by up-and-coming talents, such as Jennings (“Just To Satisfy You”), Lee Hazelwood (“Houston”)., and Tompall Glaser (“The Streets Of Baltimore”). His take on Bob Dylan’s classics “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” might not be the strongest material here, but it shows just how respected Dylan had become in Nashville and the country music scene––a development that would soon have greater repercussions. (Dylan would show his own admiration for Bare and would record a version of “The All-American Boy” a year later.)

Bare’s  career would take a few interesting turns after this trio of albums. He would score a number of  hits serving as the singing duo partner to a number of female vocalists, while his own career leveled off to the extent that he would change labels, but not to any great success. He would return to RCA in The early 1970s, and thanks to a collaboration with his friend Shel Silverstein, he would score the biggest hits of his career as well as become famous for humorous yet ribald material.  Bare is still going strong, still performing live, and  earlier this year was re-inducted and Into the Grand Ole Opry. This fine collection of early career Bare serves as an excellent reevaluation of some top-notch music that unfortunately gets overlooked.

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