On his second solo album, No Use for a Name’s Tony Sly settles into his new singer-songwriter role. Smirking title aside, Sad Bear is an honestly bittersweet, heartfelt set of acoustic songs. In some ways, it’s an album about songwriting, both the immediate comfort of penning a song about heartache and its ultimate futility of the act in regard to fixing any real-life situations. “Wrote this when I was 39, still in my head but out of mind”, he sings to open the record on “Dark Corner”, and from there we hear Sly sing often of writing songs to make sense of things, and sometimes distracting himself with a drink or 12. Things can get pretty dark, as on the debt blues number “Hey God” when Sly spits out “Hey God I’ve got a message for you, I don’t think you exist”. Mostly, though, particularly on subtler turns like “Therapy” and the piano rundowns and strings of “Francis Stewart”, Sly’s tales of woe are tough but earned. Sad Bear doesn’t press with over-the-top images like his last album occasionally did, though it may lean a bit heavily on the tear-in-your-beer vibe. The compositions here, though, are full of basic but essential flourishes—a harmonica here, a layered vocal there, a mandolin shadowing the guitar—that show Sly’s growth as a writer and arranger. The album still might have trouble breaking out beyond fans of No Use for A Name, but it’s certainly a record worth your attention.
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