Tim and Susie Lee are rock and roll lifers, stubbornly committed to an art form that has, if you believe the alarmist hype, been on life support for the past decade or so. If the form is perceived to have aged less than gracefully in the mass-marketed public eye, it is, nonetheless, people like the Lees others like them in small, mostly urban scenes on the periphery of the big business who keep its heart beating strong. Honestly, a devoted rock and roll fan doesn’t need the big labels anymore, and though the giants keep leaving us (RIP Malcolm, Fats, Tom, and Chuck), their influence continues to echo throughout the underground and can still be heard in small clubs just about any evening of the week.
Tim was one-half of the Windbreakers in the ’80s, who like many Southern bands influenced by garage rock and power pop found themselves recording with Mitch Easter (most famous, of course, for producing R.E.M.s first three records). Lee was even a touring member of Easter’s band, Let’s Active, and became a sought-after sideman on countless recordings over the years. After the Windbreakers, Tim released a string of well-received solo records that slowly merged into a new band configuration when Susie, as the story goes, woke up one morning and decided to learn bass guitar. Capturing her own growing confidence as an instrumentalist and vocalist, the Tim Lee 3 released five full-length records (with Chris Bratta filling the seat behind the drum kit for their final three records) culminating in 2016’s excellent farewell disc
Tin, Man. The ever-striving Susan again woke one morning and decided that she should learn drums, and what began as a side project that produced 2015’s EP let’s go dancing down on gator lake road/shake that thang til our heads explode, Bark is now the Lee’s primary band.
Bark’s debut full-length
Year of the Dog continues in the swampy, garage blues of its predecessor, adding a dollop of pop and a bit of good old-fashioned rock and roll to that formula. Tim takes lead vocals on most of the slower songs, talk-singing his wry lyrics of the road, always with a keen eye peeled for the turn-off into the darker back road, that alternate route that leads away from the staid and towards those more interesting accidents of a life lived on the edge. “We’ll run the bases, baby,” he sings at one point, “It’s gonna leave a mark.” “Lazarus” combines a go-go guitar lick and surf beat to create a scenario wherein the risen hermit seems ready to join Annette and the gang at the bonfire and weenie roast. Meanwhile, “Your Love Is the Only Cure” is a driving and sweet testament to the Lee’s longstanding marriage of more than 35 years (70 in rock and roll years).
The Lees even take on topical fair on
Year of the Dog, with two of the album’s standout cuts addressing America’s current condition. Susan takes the lead in both, offering both a feminist spark and maternal compassion. On “Revolution #None” she sings, “Come on down to my revolution, another man speaking is more noise pollution” while, later, in “Living Under Water”, she offers the equally cutting lines, “The best we can hope for is Jesus really shows up / Sees the mess that we’ve made and says ‘What the fuck?’ / Man I gave you a garden that you managed to slaughter / Now, good luck with all that, you’ll all be living underwater.” The songs are both hilarious and poignant, evoking hopefulness amidst the doubt.
The album’s 12 tracks pass by fast, like dusty mile markers momentarily captured in the headlights of a jalopy speeding down a country road to nowhere in particular but bound to get interesting. These are songs fueled equally by restlessness and compassion for life. The recording is crisp and clean, which may be the only arguable flaw here: the studio simply can’t recreate the ominous, feral growl of Bark playing live in a small club, like their home base at Knoxville, Tennessee’s Pilot Light. In all, though, it’s a hell of a trip and a convincing counterpoint to anyone who would argue that rock and roll’s time is past.