Okay, here's the skinny: The scheming corporate vampires and piggy-bankers have waddled away in a silent-but-deadly cloud after gobbling their fills at the public trough, leaving the rest of us poor schmos to pick the corn outta their poop and call it lunch. The whole stinkin' economy is burning with the eternal, icy blue flame of corruption, and we're down here with…what?
LIFE, for one great big thing—HEART and SOUL and ROCK'N'ROLL, and we got Ed Anderson and his able co-conspirators in Backyard Tire Fire to remind us that ALL OF THAT counts for way more than all the high-ticket stuff you can sneak out the back door.
With their fifth full-length disc, Good To Be, Backyard Tire Fire have achieved one of those big-time, long-haul records that matter far more than the sum of its considerable parts—and not via grandiose, larger-than-life lyrical imagery but through blue-collar, common sense miniatures that remind us of the simple beauty present in mundane, daily, person-to-person experience—a reminder that the hard work and struggle that these times are so dead-set about avoiding are the only actual treasures, the only worthwhile endeavors that bear fruit of substance.
Which is NOT to say that Good To Be is yet another one of those one-dimensional, granola-rootsy, rustic Americana takes on post-Uncle Tupelo barn-board rock; there is a taste of that, to be sure, but Anderson & Co. have spread the stylistic court with a rich, ever-expanding palette of aural rock ‘n' roll colors and textures that tap into bouncy, Kinks-meet-Squeeze Brit pop-rock, Tom Petty-styled Southern rock, Beatle-esque majesty, intimate balladry, chiming folk-rock and heartland/populist chest-pounders. Bearing a consistent message of empathy, humanity and hope, Good to Be is a triumph of Anderson's own thirteen year journey as a rock and roller.
Based in Bloomington, Illinois, Backyard Tire Fire have worked the national circuit tirelessly, sharing stages with fellow-travelers Cracker, the Reverend Horton Heat, Govt. Mule, Alejandro Escovedo, James McMurtry and Los Lobos.
Good To Be, due to drop February 16th on the band's own Kelsey Street Records (distributed by Thirty Tigers/Red), was recorded in luxurious, hand-tooled analog with Los Lobos' Steve Berlin producing.
"We met Steve when we opened for Lobos," recalls Anderson. "That gig is referred to in the Tire Fire camp as ‘the gig that keeps on giving.' Those guys were very kind to us and even had us sit in with them; Los Lobos dug us. Surreal…"
"Berlin got in touch with our management about producing us," Anderson continues. "We decided on Type Foundry Studio out in Portland, Oregon—M. Ward records his stuff at the place. And that allowed Steve to be at home with his wife and kids while it took us out of our comfort zone…something we wanted to do."
As with the previous four BTF beauties, Ed Anderson wrote all of the songs for GTB, but despite his muscular, all-world guitar wizardry and enviable command of a whisky/flannel vocal delivery hard-won through endless touring, the savvy Anderson found the recording process with Berlin to be a whole new—if exhilarating—ballgame. "Steve is an involved producer," Ed asserts. "He had me rewriting lyrics, coming up with key changes, writing bridges, changing tunings—and recording lots of takes to get exactly what he wanted."
"And he plays something on every track—be it a keyboard part or percussion; he's all over the record. It was a challenging experience…and it generated good stuff."
Anderson's songs on Good To Be all exude an upbeat, glass-half-full positive approach, though not hardly of the delusional Pollyanna stripe.
Still, it's abundantly clear that the overriding theme of this set is one of coming to terms with Life as a process—that the experience, the journey and its missteps are to be valued even above end-goals; in fact, that the very struggle itself may be the prize.
Ed's own personal transformation/acceptance peeks out in the manic, tightly-wound opener, "Roadsong #39," a rugged, visceral salute to the funk and stink of the daily rock ‘n' roll road grind—"it's sweaty and it's smoky and it's ripe and it's rock and roll."
Tracks 2-6 comprise a masterful, tender, hook-laden song cycle exploring third-person, slice-of-life experiences loaded with more missteps than a yard full of rakes, highlighted by "Food for Thought," an impossibly lovely tune that asks "what you gonna do with your stuff when you're gone?/Cuz when you're through and your time has come/and you think you've had your fun/well all that really matters is what you've done…"
After "Hell and Back" pledges undying love over rocky terrain, the final third of the disc picks up the rock-life thread again, as the elevating, empowering title cut folds into "A Thousand Gigs Ago" and "Piss and Moan," forming a self-effacing trilogy summing up a laundry list of the usual road warrior bitches even as they celebrate the small joys of the doing and the surviving to do it all again.
Good To Be winds out with the beautiful "Once Upon a Time," a sweet benediction pledging steadfast support as the lights go dim.
Good stuff, indeed.
Like their aromatic namesake, Backyard Tire Fire have grown from a smoldering, localized slow burn to an insistent, overriding funky presence that's spreading and refuses to be snuffed or ignored.
Well-placed friends have emerged on the field of battle; Jim Heath (a/k/a the Rev. Horton Heat) called BTF "one of the best and coolest bands out there."
Cracker's Johnny Hickman added, "My favorite band right now is Backyard Tire Fire; they sometimes remind me of early Wilco, Son Volt and Flaming Lips—they are my earworm these last few months."
Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers is a big fan, and Govt. Mule's Warren Haynes has invited BTF to his 2009 Xmas Jam festival.
BTF plans to be on the road fulltime in 2010, beginning with a 50 market national tour that they'll be headlining from February through May.
Still, there's no doubt about it—Life is tough, and there's precious few indicators that the road is any smoother over the horizon, so it's a powerful, too-rare thing to be reminded that the hard knocks, bumps and bruises can serve as perfect frames for the incandescent joys that pop up in-between, and that to be able to feel it all may very well be what this mortal coil is all about.
We're alive, dammit, and it's Good To Be…so rock on.