“I’m a low down, wound up, road bound man, yeah go ahead and chase me sucker, catch me if you can, hope you like the taste of dirt and that ring on my right hand, before you even get to me you’ve gotta get through my whole band!”
The true mark of a country bad ass, Bob Wayne opens his label debut, Outlaw Carnie, with guns a blazing – even flipping the bird to those that considering themselves prospective fans. From here, Wayne makes good on his promise to compromise nothing at the expense of a wild tale, no matter how tall or unlikely, and when combined with his years of nomadic travels, makes for a far out, one of a kind – almost autobiographical – country event.
Hailing from the traditions of famous outlaws Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings (he’s been a roadie for Hank III for years), Wayne weaves tales of the road, liberally crossing experience with fiction for some of the most vivid story telling in recent memory. The album serves as an almost reworked greatest hits package featuring new versions of much of his independent catalogue. Some of the best writing develops characters like “Mack,” a modern, drug abusing vagrant nomadically crossing America in his eighteen wheeler who, by tale’s end, becomes touted as an outright American hero by the FBI after getting some payback on a double crossing dealer – “the last great American hero,” in fact. At other times he leads listeners down a bizarre path that Wayne swears on his “pappy’s grave it is the truth,” the most fantastic being “Ghost Town.” Wayne sings “we got lost, in North Dakota, you know me, I wouldn’t lie, yeah that ghost town tried to kill me, but you ain’t gonna believe who saved our lives,” with the addendum, “hell I don’t even believe you saved out lives.” After choruses of building tension, and an over the top gambling confrontation, Wayne promises “hold on, you’re about to find out who saved our lives.” I remember the sense of suspense during my first listen, and can safely say without hesitation or spoiling the awesome payoff, that the end is well worth the build up, and that hearing the punch line never gets old.
But Bob Wayne isn’t just about fantastical stories (although those are an amazing draw). No, Wayne’s success comes from his grounded personality and just how much of his own blood, sweat, and tears go into every note. While initially seeming like a thick headed tough guy in a trucker hat (i.e. the car chase ruckus “Driven By Demons”) unwilling to break out of his exterior (see “Love Songs Suck”), he briefly lets down his guard for his own version of an origin tale in “Blood To Dust.” The instrumentally minimalist acoustic heavy song, inspired by a conversation between Wayne and his grandma, tells the story of growing up with an absent father and a by-chance run-in only weeks before his passing from an overdose. At the risk of damaging my reputation, this song is responsible for some blurry eyesight and dampened sleeves, humanizing Wayne to the point of empathy without invoking pity. After this point it becomes painfully clear that Outlaw Carnie is Wayne’s triumph, and one of the most honest and intelligent records in music today.
I don’t say this often, but Bob Wayne has crafted an absolute essential listen. Century Media released the album during this year’s first month, but the disc is unlikely to be challenged by anything like it for the remainder of the year. This is a rare offering in a tough genre to break into, but with Outlaw Carnie, that’s exactly what Bob Wayne has done in a big way – and I for one can’t wait to hear where Wayne heads next when he hits the sunset in that big ol’ bull horned Cadillac.