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Backyard Tire Fire follow their niche

February 15, 2010

Backyard Tire Fire
Good To Be
Kelsey Street
February 16, 2010

Rating: 6.0/10

The fifth studio album from Bloomington’s own Backyard Tire Fire is not too much different than their previous albums.

I would say that their latest, “Good To Be,” has a more defined, grizzled sound, but as far as I can tell, that’s what BTF has had going for them the whole time.

“Good To Be” very clearly has the sound of a road-worn band, aged like a fine ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ whiskey. The first song on the album, “Roadsong 39” runs through the gamut of sensory experiences from the road: the scents, sounds and sights of a rock band on the road.

Its low rumbling guitar and steady rhythms set the tone for the rest of the album as these become hallmarks of the BTF sound. Theirs is a sound that seems to eschew traditional genre stereotypes.

Too rock ‘n’ roll to be considered country or folk but not swinging enough to be rockabilly, the album falls somewhere closer to roots rock than anything else. They fit among the many alternative-country bands like Uncle Tupelo, and they manage to find that same 90s radio sound that is so endearing.

However, the best explanation I can come up with for where BTF fits on the musical spectrum is that these guys are quintessential barroom rock.

While listening to this album, I was transported to a dark club, a set of dim lights shining on the road warriors on stage easing the ills of the crowd. BTF is a band that you want to have a drink while listening to, and that you want to see play live.

While the album had its own charm, as I listened to that rough-chugging guitar and the understated guitar solos and lead lines, I could not help but think about how much more prominent and exciting they would be in a live setting.

Nothing made me yearn to see this band play live more than the song “A Thousand Gigs Ago,” in which the lead singer and guitarist Ed Anderson gives his tongue-in-cheek account of how his life on the road has aged him.

Hearing these road veterans play a song about living on the road is exactly what I think BTF is all about, and it seems to fit them very well.

Despite being the essence of a road band, they do incorporate many wonderful studio elements into their songs. For instance, on the pop-sensible “Learning to Swim,” they manage to incorporate a quirky piano riff and a raucous horn section in with their triumvirate of instruments.

The title track also utilizes these little studio nuances, like a lightly tapping piano and handclaps to accentuate the rhythms and give the song a light, fun sound.

My favorite song on “Good To Be” came at the tail end when the band strayed from their tried and true methods of song writing and ventured into the forest of experimental music.

The song, “Once Upon a Time,” reminds of later Wilco (whose earlier music could be compared to BTF), but where Wilco went deep in the hinterlands of that forest, BTF sticks to the tree line, playing with reverb a bit.

BTF does stumble a couple times on this album, most notably on “Brady,” the tale of an awkward young man seeking companionship with a woman in the red light district of Amsterdam.

There just wasn’t much that hooked me in the song. Its obvious metaphors and repetitive guitar just didn’t work at all in my estimation.

Overall, “Good To Be” is a solid album that is worth picking up. BTF manages to create an album that elicits interest in their live show without losing the nuance and subtlety that make studio albums worthwhile.

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