There are a number of ways to tackle American roots music. Some performers strive to recapture or simulate the sound of a particular place and time, possible drawbacks being the results could be mannered, contrived, and/or no fun. Or said performers could use tradition-based styles as a jumping-off point, absorbing the essence of roots sounds while making something of their own, sounding “back-when” and a little “new” simultaneously. Thankfully, Bloomington, Illinois combo Backyard Tire Fire has a propensity to the latter approach.
Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin produced the band’s latest, Good to Be. Although they rarely evoke the Lobos, the Tire Fire does indeed share affinities with them, namely thorough grounding in the basics; direct, engaging tunefulness; tight and enthusiastic ensemble playing with a bit of grit; a bit of irreverence, and lyrics about real life as lived by people that care not a whit about reality TV. Good to Be includes rustic-sounding harmonies (à la the Band, Son Volt), lyrics marked by working-class fatalism (My car’s in the shop/I brought it back from the dead/I don’t know when to stop), crunchy guitar riffs (think T. Rex, Uncle Tupelo, Neil Young), a variety of tempos, Beatles-like touches ‘n’ textures, and truculent economy (songs are all killer, no filler).
The album’s ambience is a healthy mix of ironic road-weariness and tenacity. Highly recommended. (Kelsey Street Records/Thirty Tigers)