Winner "Best Country Album of the Year"
L.A. Music Awards 2005
(This album has an all-star crew, see below)
Joe worked his way through the early days in the city hardware store, in the freight yards of Virginia, gigging in clubs when he was 14. He grew up on Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, James Brown, Monk and Rollins. The only white kid in a soul band, he toured the South back in the day when that just wasn't done. The group, The Exceptions, recorded "Have Faith" which got to "#34 with a bullet" its first week on the black AM stations. Then the label pulled it. Depressed and downhearted he took to cloud nine.
Joe found his way up North to film school and started building sound tracks for industrial and feature films. That went real well for years until it didn't.
Original songs started to flow from Joe's pen not for projects, just because. Two new albums and they're still coming. These songs are his best work. You can taste the urban and down home flavors mixing well in every piece. It's all about the groove, but the lyrics'll get ya'.
Slam in a disc and drive. You'll see.
And check out Joe's friends on the album. Including Grammy winner Johnny Lee Schell who's played with Bonnie Raitt and John Fogarty. Mike Finnigan on B3 whose credits go back to Electric Lady Land with Jimmy Hendrix, currently on the road with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Greg Leisz, pedal steel, who's frequently traveling with K.D. Laing. The recording and musicianship are absolutely first string!
Joe Bear, Bear Country (Review)
"...those hot dry [winds] that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."
-Red Wind, Raymond Chandler
Los Angeles is the crash site of the American dream; smoldering, desperate, glowing, ecstatic. A gigantic sizzling ember. Everything jettisoned from Old World East Coast/ Bible-Suckled South/Corn fed Midwest that landed here. L.A. really flushes out the weaklings leaving only the insane, the obsessed, the ungodly, and the visionary. They are everywhere in L.A., paved over, crazed. Valley mothers gripping steering wheels of SUV's as they drive to Rite-Aid like it's the last time; tattooed love/hate boys grunting, pushing Harleys across brown grass of stucco houses with torn screen doors. South Central slaughterhouse hiphop G's and wanna-be's executin' each other. The blood runs dark and thin as the wash in the Los Angeles River.
L.A.'s electronic nightmare sucking the color from all the faces is the compost where pre-apocalyptic music is grown. In the heart of this American dream, I slipped Bear Country into the player. From an unholy coupling of stomp-ass Bakersfield, roughneck cowboy music and smooth, hardedge soul, Joe Bear sings into the hot, thin-air. The song of L.A.
Never has a peek at the End Times been so seductive as this new release. "A Little Bitty Piece" of immortality, a barn-burner redemption prayer gets you on the freeway. "No Right to Sing the Blues", a smack-down of self pity, balancing Texas Swing with Memphis R&B -- "What You Do" a world-weary valentine to a love hard-earned from a poet standing at the edge of the void that is L.A. Joe Bear is a moralist with a twisted-sneer bite of humor. "Ready" and "Kill All the Bad Guys" coax you toward enlightenment with battle rhythms. "Road Rager" is the coolest response to "Hot Rod Lincoln" ever. "Nelson" - a warm as Jack Daniels requiem, takes you way down. "The Bear Says So" says au revoir to all markets, bear and bull. A solid update of "Baby You're Right" cut through with guitar slices James will love. The farewell ballad, "You're Turn" flat breaks your heart.
A veteran pack of musicians deliver Joe Bear's sun stroked vision with rock steady assurance learned slugging it out live and in the studio. Johnny Lee Schell's deep rust vocals and long-road guitar with Mike Finnigan's B-3 reaches back through years with CSN and Hendrix. Whiplash pedal steel work from both Greg Leisz and Doug Livingston testify to the new sound of Joe Bear grooves with the coolest soul backing vocals from Julie Delgado, Marlena Jeter and Gromyko Collins. This is the best blend I've tasted in a real long time.
At "Blue and Lonesome" - snake-bit slide guitar and all - this son of Shakeytown pulls his '74 primer coat Z-28 over to the side so you can hop in. With a rebel yell, "I'm Gone, So Long" as I hit the gas. Bear Country is what we'll hear as we cruise heading west, always heading west.....
Sept. 25, 2005
Bob Swan is a free-lance writer living in Los Angeles.