Iconic songwriter and Country Music Hall of Fame member Bobby Bare turns 85 on April 7th and will follow that milestone 10 days later with a brand-new album, Great American Saturday Night. The collection of songs, penned by Bare’s late friend, songwriter and author Shel Silverstein, first formed the basis of a concept album recorded in 1978 but never released.
The first song off of the LP, premiering today, is “Livin’ Legend,” the poignant recollections of an aging folk singer who survived the folk boom of the early Sixties, only to find himself now willing to “swap my songs for sandwiches and shelter.” He also offers to sweep the floors of the venue once the patrons leave after hearing him perform. Opening with the ironic line, “It sure is great to be a living legend,” the singer notes that, “even living legends have to live,” while the defeated yet hopeful tone in his voice suggests it’s less about living and more about survival. With a live audience in the background helping to set the scene and offer support for the humble singer, Bare’s weather-beaten narrator wrings every ounce of vintage honky-tonk pathos from the tune without a hint of self-pity or resentment.
“I can make ʼem cry with ‘Molly Darlin’, they’ll sing along on ‘Row Your Boat Ashore,’ ” he sings. On the final chorus, with Bare’s gentle encouragement, the audience offers angelic accompaniment to the tune as it fades out, with the narrator presumably ready to leave the stage in search of his broom.
Elsewhere on Great American Saturday Night, Silverstein’s lyrics cover topics such as weight loss and dating, and, hinting at the tunesmith and Playboy cartoonist’s more ribald humor, public nudity in “They Won’t Let Us Show It at the Beach.”
After meeting at songwriter Harlan Howard’s house in the early Seventies, Bare and Silverstein began a series of collaborations that eventually resulted in the 1973 LP Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, followed by albums including Singin’ in the Kitchen, Hard Time Huungrys, The Winner and Other Losers, Drinkin’ From the Bottle, Singin’ From the Heart, and Old Dogs, which also features Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis, and Jerry Reed.
Silverstein, who died in 1999 at 68, was also the writer of numerous other hits, including “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” covered by Emmylou Harris on her 1975 major-label debut, Pieces of the Sky. He also famously penned several Dr. Hook hits, including “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone,’ ” a Top Ten pop smash in 1973.
The follow-up to Bare’s 2018 album, Things Change, which featured the haunting “I Drink,” written by Mary Gauthier, Great American Saturday Night will be available for preorder Friday, February 28th, and out everywhere on April 17th.