"From the End of Your Leash"



"With or Without Me"

Leisure King

The fourth song on "From the End of Your Leash," the new album from Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminals' Starvation League, is "Visit Me in Music City," an invitation to drop in on Bare in his Nashville home town. The burly singer-guitarist co-wrote the song with his daddy, one of the great country hitmakers of a previous generation, but the arrangement owes as much to early Tom Waits and late Nick Cave as it does to Chet Atkins.

When the younger Bare drawls that Roy Acuff tied off his umbilical cord with his yo-yo string at the Ryman Auditorium, that touch of surreal hyperbole is reflected in the music, a strange mix of country, garage rock and chamber-pop. And the satirical jabs aimed at Music Row are redeemed by the singer's obvious affection for the city, a feeling reinforced by the leisurely, lovely melody.

That blend of irreverence and poignancy, of Americana and art-rock, of elaborate harmonies and offhanded performances, marks the whole album. It's a mix that Bare has pursued on a previous album and EP, but he finally gets it right this time by weeding out the cheap jokes and imperfect harmonies. Punchy horns and Will Oldham's vocals prop up the bizarre murder tale of "Valentine," while swooning strings and an elegant melody lend a real vulnerability to the self-mocking confession of "Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)."

Tom Heinl takes a more broadly comic approach to country music on his new album, "With or Without Me." The Oregon singer-songwriter is blessed with the kind of craggy baritone that can do a decent imitation of Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard, but when Heinl combines the dead-mother and drunken-daddy genres on the same song, "Mama," the action quickly shifts from the sublime to the ridiculous.

He exploits the comic possibilities of titles such as "Christmas Tree on Fire" and "IHOP," describes a sexual farce on "Three-Way" and even sends up hot-rod music on "Pinto Squire." The jokes work because the music sounds so authentic. To underline the humor, he divides the CD in two: The "With Me" half presents the 10 songs with vocals and backing tracks; the "Without Me" half presents the same songs with only the backing tracks, so you can sing along, karaoke style.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Both appearing Monday at IOTA. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminals' Starvation League, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8102; to hear Tom Heinl, press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)