Bark – Year of the Dog

A revered figure on the Southern music scene since way back in the early 1980s –his former band The Windbreakers still boasts a coterie of diehard devotees – Tim Lee keeps the indie flame alight with his latest project, a stripped-down, remarkably spry collaboration with long-time spouse Susan Bauer Lee. (She also logged time in the post-Windbreakers combo Tim Lee 3.) The vibe here is homey and lo-fi, swampy blues and surf-rock tunes served sans frills. Susan’s no-nonsense drumming and Tim’s versatile Fender six-string bass handle the bulk of the workload, economically embellished by a few handclaps here, a shake of a tambourine there. The pair share vocal duties but gravitate toward distinct personas. Tim is naturally convincing as the seen-it-all road dog who’s got a “motel tan” and who “can’t shake these interstate blues.” Disappointments? He’s had a mountain of ‘em, and on “World of Regret,” he’s drinking “like a man who needs to forget.”

Susan is the caustic concerned citizen. On “Living Under Water,” she imagines Jesus having a real WTF moment upon his return to present-day Earth. “I gave you a garden that you managed to slaughter/So good luck with all that now that you’re living underwater.” Tim and Susan are co-leads on two standout numbers that traverse the peaks and valleys of a relationship. On the peppery “Waste Your Breath,” they hurl barbed lines at each other – “Shut your mouth”/“Listen to me”/“It’s going south/“Least it appears to be” – over a tense surf-rock riff. The outlook is brighter and the vocal harmonies sweeter on “Ends of the World,” which finds a couple of aging lovers heading to a drive-in movie in an attempt to rekindle their romance, even if they have to “pretend that things are just like they were.”

A few songs on Year of the Dog beg for a fuller sound. The Windbreakers’ jangly guitars would’ve lifted “Living Under Water” to even headier heights, and some subtle strings might have drawn a line under the melancholy of “World of Regret.” But when the duo locks into a sultry backwater groove, as on “Interstate Blues” and the moody instrumental “Elbmur,” – that’s “rumble” in reverse, don’t cha know – the sparse instrumentation is hauntingly effective.

Year of the Dog
[Striped Light]