The first thing that comes to mind when listening to Karen Barry’s debut album, Bare, is that these songs were not written on a whim. They were culled from life experience. Hearing them for the first time is like discovering Barry’s diary under her pillow, closing the door and settling down to read her most personal thoughts and reminisces. It’s impressive how much of herself Barry has managed to put in an album’s worth of material. No matter how long the songs took to write, they seem to represent the culmination of her life up until now.
“Did you take my daddy’s cufflinks/Mama gave you when he died?/First time that you wore those/All I could do was cry,” she sings in “Before the Dawn,” despairing over a lover who has gone. The imagery of her rummaging through his closet, checking for things he might have left behind, will break your heart.
“Bare Feet on the Kitchen Floor” is a song of being stuck in neutral and not knowing why. Barry sings of feeling empty and alone in her domestic life. “Don’t know what I’m missing/I always thought there would be more/Laundry’s piling up right there on the floor.” One thing she takes refuge in is music. It’s not clear if the singer is someone she knows or would like to know; either way, he provides some solace. “Gonna spin your record/Turn up the sound/When I’m lost/That’s where I’m found”.
Barry calls Bare “Americana turned up to 11,” which is a totally apt description. She frequently channels Lucinda Williams in her writing and augments those stylings with the crunch and blare of Neil Young-like guitar licks and, oddly, an occasional Patti Smith-like turn of phrase. But the influences never get in the way of Barry’s own unique style. Her five piece band is fine and her wavering, occasionally pitchy delivery does these songs right.
My verdict? Bare is an impressive debut album from an artist to watch.
The album is available from CDBaby (as a physical and digital release), and iTunes.