Photo: Danielle Holbert / Courtesy of Anti- Records

Darrin Bradbury Finds the Connections Between ‘Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs’

For 26 minutes, folk's Darrin Bradbury creatively mines the preposterous to show the benefits of mentally coping with life's problems. Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs provides a kind of talk therapy for our collective disorders.

Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs
Darrin Bradbury
20 September 2019

Darrin Bradbury is freaking nuts. It’s not his fault. We live in crazy times. The only sane response to living in a mad world is to go wacky. Bradbury knows this, but it doesn’t provide him with much relief. Like John Prine, to whom Bradbury’s frequently compared, he knows it’s a big old goofy world. What else is there to do but to wonder what one’s pets are thinking, imagine ways of killing oneself, and pontificating about the American dream? Bradbury doesn’t propose any remedies to the nation’s ills. He just lets the listener know what’s on his mind and presumes he’s not alone. He’s not.

The 11 tracks on Talking Dogs & Atom Bombs provide a kind of talk therapy for our collective disorders. For 26 minutes, Bradbury creatively mines the preposterous to show the benefits of mentally coping with life’s problems. He tells us on “The Trouble with Time” that “If you close your eyes, you can travel through time / Just pick anywhere that you like in your mind.” The trouble is, one’s imagination doesn’t change reality. Bradbury takes solace where he can find it. That’s maybe all one can do. He’s a realist more than a cynic and doesn’t lose hope. Indeed, it’s Bradbury’s optimism in the face of negative experiences that endows his new release with charm. He’s funny, even when everyday life can be a drag.

Take “Breakfast”, a song by a self-consciously delusional narrator who sees the world through a double vision—the actual and the blithely hypothetical one where a couple of squirrels in the yard could be Romeo and Juliet (until a hawk swoops down and catches one), junk mail turns into postcards from exotic lands, and cereal becomes oat children drowned in skim milk by a hungry god. Bradbury suggests he’s doing fine doing nothing but that he’s not really satisfied either. That’s kind of the point. Things could be worse. Often they are. But they are not so great either. That’s the quotidian facts of life. The best one can do is to find pleasure in the absurdity of existence.

Or as the other song titles on the album note, there are “So Many Ways to Die” (where he countdowns the many methods and rhymes Billy the Kid with Anna Nicole Smith), “This Too Shall Pass” (“like a kidney stone” and “Hell’s More or Less the Same” no matter when one dies. Where every motel room is like every other motel room (“Motel Room, Motel Room”) and “The American Life” is a place where a Big Mac is the same no matter where one happens to be and presumably, its inhabitants are stupid. Bradbury’s lyrics are full of clever one-liners and setups for jokes, but he makes serious points.

The earth is messed up place, and it’s all our fault even when it’s not. As he notes on the title song, “The microwave / and the atom bomb / are distant cousins / and my popcorn’s gone.” We (individually) may not have made this world, but that doesn’t absolve us for its faults. He sings in a slow drawl and implies laziness as his personal excuse. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel culpable. Bradbury even guiltily dreams he was Lee Harvey Oswald and shot President John F. Kennedy.

It should be noted that the music itself is somewhat simple. Bradbury plays acoustic guitar and is accompanied by a small combo of players who do their best to stay in the background. The words are the stars here. Bradbury’s talent lies in the fact that he can make you think and laugh and think again, but this time with feeling. He knows that dogs can’t talk and we are all fools, but compassion and a sense of humor may redeem us all.

RATING 9 / 10