Bob Schneider's probably unknown to most of America, but apparently that becomes less and less true the closer you get to Austin. Now, from all accounts, Austin's a pretty music-happy town, and the roster of acts that have come from that part of Texas probably reads like God's own music festival. But Schneider seems to have set himself apart a little; by the time he released his major label debut, 2001's Lonelyland, he'd already sold 15,000 copies of his self-released discs in one Austin record store.
So that's a lot of hype to live up to, whether you're talking about Schneider-fronted bands like the Scabs and the Ugly Americans, or his solo work. There are several faces to Shchneider's music, from bar-rock so raunchy it'll make you blush to singer/songwriter fare so sensitive it'll make you cry. His solo efforts, such as Lonelyland and his new one, I'm Good Now, give him free rein to explore most of those territories at once.
In the case of Lonelyland, that kitchen-sink attitude resulted in a record that was both exhilarating and frustrating in the way it shifted from style to style. With I'm Good Now, that's less of a problem. Schneider still refuses (thankfully) to be tied down to the traditional singer/songwriter model, but I'm Good Now is notable for its increased focus.
Things kick off with "Come With Me Tonight", a smooth, gentle track that could fit right into a VH1 playlist (and that's not a knock against the song), and the song works as a nice introduction to what Schneider's capable of: the yearning chorus, the sharply humorous lyrics (one character's "as hard as boardwalk bubblegum, and smooth as 151"), and the ear-friendly delivery. Songs like the nimbly fingerpicked "A Long Way to Get" (with self-deprecating but non-pitying lyrics like "there's a man I've never met before who looks a lot like me / There's a place called Heaven that I'll probably never see / And there's a thing called peace of mind that I've never known") and "God is My Friend" (which feels like a lyrical cross between Crowded House's "There Goes God" and Joan Osborne's "One of Us") establish Schneider as an artist who deserves to be played on many, many stereos.
So the normal singer/songwriter routes are covered. I'm Good Now holds some surprises along the way, though. The title track sounds like a hybrid of Todd Snider and Robert Earl Keen (especially the lines about living in Mexico "drinking cervezas all night long / Singing Mexican love songs / Getting all the words all wrong / Not giving a damn". "C'mon Baby" is fiercely aggressive, filled with distorted leads, staccato guitar blasts, and shredded vocals. "The Bridge Builders" follows by being calmer, but no less emotionally ragged and brooding as Schneider sings of "building my own bridge to somewhere far from here". "Getting Better" lurches and wobbles like an Ecstacy-fueled beat poet behind the wheel (and if that's not actually Tom Waits scatting in the background at the end, then someone's stolen his gravelly yelp).
By record's end, Schneider's offered up an impressive batch of songs, many of them the equals of Lonelyland's best moments (well, maybe not "2002" -- that was kind of a watershed moment that isn't topped here). If the music world has any justice (all signs to the contrary), then I'm Good Now will help break Schneider to the wider audience (outside of Austin) that he deserves.