Reviews

REVIEWS OF Ain’t Comin’ Back (This Year)

Rambles (www.rambles.net) is a prestigious E-zine examining the cultural arts — their April 12 issue included the following review by Sarah Meador. You can (CLICK) to go there or just read on below.

Fred Bailey has won a slew of folk music awards, and Ain’t Comin’ Back This Year makes it easy to hear why. Bailey has the snap and sound of an old-school folksinger. His lyrics have the polite but reckless fire of Woody Guthrie, while his guitar playing echoes Pete Seeger on a playful day. Bailey’s autobiographical songs make it clear that he comes by his old-school sound honestly, having been there when it was new. But he still sounds fresh; his songs work in any era, and have moved on to deal with the problems of the present as well as the problems of his youth.

Nostalgia is given a much-needed kick in the rear from the first words on the album. “Ain’t Comin’ Back This Year” is a cheerful retort to all the songs of faded high school glory, remembering the less than brilliant early lives of the singer and his schoolmates. The exuberance of someone who escaped the pull of home swells the boundaries of the verses, spilling a little over meter and form for the sake of full thoughts without destroying the basic structure. “Windmills” shows a bit more respect for the past, and is shaded with soft regret. “Delaware County Line” has humor for the old ways and the new, celebrating the flaws that settled a land and the flaws that now cover it.

The faults of the past are honored, in sometimes painful clarity. “The Dunes of Lisdoovarna” gives remembrance of sailors lost on her beaches and gives a bit of comfort towards the spirits of all lost seamen. “The Widow McDaid” grieves for the lives lost in the struggles in Ireland, without assigning blame or giving up easy answers. “Welcome Home,” while pointed directly at Vietnam veterans, clearly belongs to all the forgotten soldiers that drift through the world.

The sorrows of the past are answered with bright, optimistic songs of the present. “Flutterbys” is a wonderful relationship song, accepting the gaps in perception between two partners while celebrating the joy of sharing time. An unusual flute flits around the words, standing in musically for the flutterbys of the song. “Sing Me the Sky” also finds joy in companionship, and the friendly chorus of voices brings a welcoming feel to this traveling song.

The autobiographical songs are the most engaging on the album. “Clayton Comes to Town” is an awed romp with the mad visitor of a country town. Bailey, who lived through the thrill of Clayton, has his own take on those supposedly peaceful days. It’s obvious that Bailey still loves his country roots. Besides “Clayton,” there’s the wonderful story “The Fargo Stable Fire.” This retelling of a “rural legend” packs an entire Western into a few quick verses. Driven by mandolin and drumming guitars, it has drama and dark humor to spare.

The final song, “Protection,” offers itself as a bit of advice. Cleverly turning suggestive lyrics to family friendly use, this musical dig at deceivers in all stages of life has an outspoken assurance. Given Bailey’s traditional sound, it’s almost shocking to hear such a defiant, nearly dirty song, and outright stunning to hear his answer to religion. “Protection” is a great choice for a finale; it shows off the humor, the deceptively simple lyrics and the relaxed music playing into a driven message that goes through the whole album. Fans of folk will find plenty of rewards for picking up Ain’t Coming Back This Year.

And then the Folk Club of South Florida (CLICK for their PDF file)
published their May 2003 Newsletter with this kind review by David M. Thornburgh:

Fred Bailey writes with great humanness, as well as soft touches of pity, humor, compassion, and sometimes a sense of sorrow. The title tune reflects his feelings about school reunions and each passing 5-year interval. He also confronts our involvement in foreign wars (he is a Vietnam veteran), addresses the religionists who forcefully proselytize, and protests our oppression of America’s indigenous peoples. His guitar playing is very rhythmic and precise in the finger picking style of better traditional folk songs.

Track 3, “Windmills” portrays the remnants of the recent past culture of homesteads abandoned in the wake of the tragic Dust Bowl years. Another favorite of mine, track 7 “The Cherokee Kid” tells of Will Rogers, whose jokes, pokes, and observations are still appropriate today. “Delaware County Line” is a lament about cultural change and diminishing traditions. “Sing Me the Sky” is a joyous sing-along tribute to nature with an audience singing on the chorus, and “Flutter-byes” is a wondrous song about watching butterflies and fleeting magic moments of human life.

There are many good songs on this CD: I recommend it highly to those who appreciate American music written in the tradition of the great folk and acoustic musicians of the 1950’s and 60’s. These songs explore timeless and contemporary themes. Fred Bailey is a gifted observer of life, a fine writer. He sings and plays with great clarity and caring for humanity, nature, and life.
And here’s a review by a friend
Reviewer: CM Custis from Columbus, OH
“As good as it gets”

When Howard Carter broke the last seal on King Tut’s tomb, he was asked, “What do you see?” Carter’s reply: “Wonderful things.” Break the seal on this album and you’ll find the same. Bailey is an extraordinary musical storyteller; these songs let you stand on a hot, dusty rise on the Great Plains, in a Midwest backyard, a street in Northern Ireland, a chilly beach in the west of Ireland. No wispy sentimentalism here. This is folk music of the highest order, the kind that illuminates the importance of individual lives. There is the lilting tragedy of the widow McDaid, the roaring independence of Clayton as he comes to town and a tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale for all. Some of the music is simply Fred and his guitar; on much of it there are lovely background vocals and vibrant instrumentals by local friends. So. Sit down. Just…listen.
And a review by a friend of a friend
Reviewer: Stuart W. Miller from Chicago, IL USA

I have to say that I’m not a folk music fan, probably because so many of the songs seem overly sentimental and so many of its singers–I guess because of their quest for an “honest” sound?–come across as vocally ugly. So this CD was a wonderful surprise. Energetic, tuneful, musical, authentic, true to folk traditions without being trite, the “real McCoy”–all these come to mind as I listen to the terrific lyrics, beautifully performed from the heart by the very talented Bailey and his ensemble. “Welcome Home”, “Windmills” and “The Widow McDaid” are probably my favorites but since all fourteen songs are winners, it’s a matter of picking from among the best which ones you like the most. Superlatives are in order for this fine recording.