Album Review: Rob Baird – Wrong Side of the River (#NewMusicFriday Ep 7 winner)
Rob Baird is as purely Americana as an artist can be. His sound is equal parts blues, country, and the wide open spaces of the American West. There’s a style and swagger in his vocal that will make you think twice about crossing him. There’s a genuine sincerity in the way he delivers his lines that tells you he’d sing these damn songs whether anyone is there to listen or not. Part rebel, part patriot, all American: Rob Baird.
Baird’s recent move to back to Austin for Wrong Side of the River was just what he needed to challenge his songwriting. The opening “Ain’t Nobody Got a Hold On Me” is a testimony of that fact. The song rises and falls with a bluesy vibe. Sometimes feeling a bit overproduced, the song is ultimately saved by Baird’s razor sharp vocals.
Shifting from blues to a pure country sound, “Mercy Me” perfectly balances that Americana and country line. It’s the kind of sound that makes you think of Jason Isbell’s sincerity with a bit more of a mellow vocal sound. The phrasing on the song, though, including the main lyric, are all pure 100% country music. The steel guitar and backing serves to make this one better. There’s absolutely no reason why this track shouldn’t be all over the radio.
Then there’s “Run of Good Luck,” an instant song of the year candidate. The piano and soft delivery is perfect, explaining the need to just run away with the one you love. It resonates so amazingly I almost cry every time I hear it. “I think it’s time we roll the dice and hope for a run of good luck.” It’s a slow song to close the bar, for damn sure.
The title track “Wrong Side of the River” is an interesting blended style, that comes across as some sort of alt rock, alt country, psych pop rock mix. When it all blends together, including some innovative guitar work, you find yourself strangely refreshed by the sounds. It’s a bit like rediscovering a Pink Floyd deep cut. The vocal, though, is pure country singer songwrite. “Like that hard earned money, I’m gone. Been on the wrong side of the river too long.” This one really speaks to the class sensibility I’ve been cultivating my entire life. It’s deeper than first blush and I can’t stop listening to it.
“Mississippi Moon” has a real commercial country vibe to it. Although that’s not what we typically cover around here, at least Baird’s vocals are better than 99% of what shows up on the country top 40. It even seems to be conscious of itself being a “sad song.” The following “When I Go” is another stripped down, slightly more introspective type of song. It is, in my opinion at least, Baird at his best. His authenticity shines through when the rest of the production is reduced and Baird’s vocal can steal the show. Although it’s a song about death, it’s really optimistic and full of a special kind of Hope. I can really appreciate that.
The final track is “Cowboy Cliche,” which finishes off this enjoyable album quite nicely. Again the lead vocal by Baird is the best part. It’s a highly literary song, drawing on the “cowboy cliche” of course, but also on the realities of the life of a musician. The layers on this one show a level of sophistication that doesn’t seem as evident in earlier tracks. “Tell me when forever disappears.” It really makes you think about the ultimate point of life, rather than merely keeping up appearances or living for an outrageous dream. It’s raw and real, but still melodic and enjoyable.
All told, this is a nice album for fans of Americana and country music. It is not pure “traditional” country or all modern country. It is probably best a fit for fans of Jason Isbell, with that fusion of Americana and country music. But the best part is, by far, Baird’s great vocal and serious songwriting. If you’re a country music fan, he’s definitely worth a shot.