Baby Ranch 2020
Former Bear brings on album number four from faux-quiet period into the troubled here and now to rebel against our times.
Rob Fetters may have begun working on this record way back in 2009, before the self-deprecating “Saint Ain’t” took shape, yet “Ship Shake” could not be docked to unload its melodious load in any year other than 2020 and to link its opener and finale in a pun-infected title. The scintillating “Queer Year” – one of the devil’s dozen tracks on offer – doesn’t carbon-date the album, but its overall mood does, only the American artist seems to refuse to drown in desperation and, with a little help from his friends, all of THE BEARS among them, puts up a good fight. While other people are “painting by the numbers. Their songs all sound the same,” Rob’s been ploughing quite a particular furrow for more than two decades now, ever since going solo, and here’s a very particular opus to mark a particular point in time.
From the acidic pop assault of “Turn This Ship Around” where Adrian Belew’s voice and Bob Nyswonger’s bass support Fetters’ stinging guitar and life-affirming, fear-banishing message, to a captivating take on MC5’s “Shakin’ Street” that’s the record’s finale, there’s love oozing out of these tracks as a common denominator for existence’s twists and turns. While the acoustically tinctured “Scripture” offers chamber balladry, and the effervescent “Artichoke” elicits a smile from the listener, the simplistic “Dog Is God” has a punk edge as though to make everyone forget about “God Is War” which quietly raged on Rob’s previous effort, and the mélange of bluesy licks, reggae skank and prog rock in “Prophets” create an eerie sort of ire to fire into the heart of today’s doom and gloom. But if “Nobody Now” tastes a bit bitter, the singer casting a glance on past glories, “Not The End” – featuring Christian Arduser’s drums and vocals – sounds as warm as should be expected of any psychedelic cut.
Still, it’s “Me & Eve” – the tale of lost innocence – that’s the sharpest piece on display, its light strum tensing up to strike with piano-driven anger and yet pack an optimistic punch, whereas “Believed” delivers the vibrant, triumphant anthem a Fetters’ fan would savor and cherish. “I don’t fit in the frame”: this line can serve as Rob’s motto, and such nonconformism is a secret of his success.