Cool Dog Sound, 2023


REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


Bark is the latest project of Tim Lee, who first gained prominence in the mid-1980s with Mississippi power-poppers The Windbreakers. Starting in the mid-aughts, Tim and his wife, Susan Bauer Lee, now based out of my once-home of Knoxville, Tennessee, formed the Tim Lee 3 with drummer Rodney Cash. The Tim Lee 3 was more of a hard driving rock band but with pop undertones still bubbling up. Now slimmed down to a duo for Bark, with Susan on drums and Tim often playing baritone guitar, Loud is their fourth full length and, admittedly, the first I’ve heard.

The baritone guitar is an interesting instrument as it sort of covers for the bass by providing a thick, fuzzy—you might even say comforting—tone. Ian MacKaye used one to such effect in The Evens, the duo he played (and maybe still plays?) in with his wife, Amy Farina. But whereas The Evens could be angular, the rhythms complex, their sound building on a long DC lineage, Bark strike my ears to be of a different indie milieu, one that’s uniquely Southern, and may even share the ragged spirit, if not exactly the style, of bands like the Reigning Sound and Legendary Shack Shakers. Lee also uses a Bass VI, a six-string bass that is often employed for chording rather than picking because the strings are packed so close together.


But maybe that’s too much shop talk before saying a word about the actual album, and Loud introduces itself with “Love Minus Action,” exactly the kind of fuzzy, propulsive southern indie rock I was trying (and largely failing) to corral above. Tim and Susan’s vocals weave around each other, as they do throughout the record, with little concern for lead or back-up roles. “Radar LUV,” seemingly a ditty about the joys of sycophancy, continues in a droll, mid-tempo vein that for some reason had me thinking of Camper Van Beethoven, who weren’t from the South, of course, although singer David Lowery has long been connected to Athens, GA. Jay Gonzalez (Drive-By Truckers) contributes a little bouncy roller rink organ to this one, as well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250


Susan handles most of the vocals on the shimmering “Float,” which features some psychedelic sitar work, fuzzy guitar chugging away underneath it all. Things take a literary turn with “James Robertson Must Turn Right,” a cover of a David Olney/John Hadley composition. While it’s never quite clear what’s going on with James Robertson (are we talking about the “Father of Tennessee”?), the song is languid and in no particular hurry, perhaps due to high humidity or thick kudzu. Given the presentation, I can’t help thinking again of a garagier Camper Van Beethoven, or the vaguely haunting songwriting of Mercyland/Sugar bassist and songwriter (and current University of Georgia music business educator), David Barbe.


On the other hand, “Work In Progress” is a hard-charging, melodic, punk rock song, Tim and Susan’s voices blending beautifully. It’s probably my favorite tune on the record. “Rock Club,” a cautionary tale about spending too much time in dark bars, turns the tempo down, but is a bit literal for my taste. Perhaps I’m getting artsier in my old age. I mean, I’m still wondering why James Robertson had to turn right.


“Gutters Of Fame” picks things up again with more buzzing, chunky guitar and some tasteful organ by Jimbo Mathus, maybe a little “Bang A Gong” lurking in the song’s skeleton. It’s a great song. “Black And White” slows things down again with a further rumination on popularity and fame, and organ is again provided by Jay Gonzalez. “So Much Time” and “Present Tense” end Loud on a wistful note, time seeming to slip through everyone’s fingers. While “So Much Time” is a churning, mid-tempo rocker, “Present Tense” gets downright slow and sad and a little bit dissonant. I have to say, I like it! In fact, I wouldn’t mind hearing more in this direction from Bark.


Regardless of what I want, decades on, Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee are lifers, and this is an honest and soulful piece of work that reflects the warm, rolling landscape from which it came.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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