ALBUM REVIEW: Tim Barry – The Roads To Richmond (Chunksaah Records)

As frontman of Richmond, Virginia, punk band Avail, Tim Barry was in one of the most influential melodic hardcore outfits of the ‘90s.

They released six studio albums between 1992 and 2002, but since then nothing – although they haven’t officially disbanded, and recently played their first live show in 12 years.

While his bandmates have worked together in a new group, Freeman, Barry has carved out his own niche as a singer-songwriter, and his solo work couldn’t be any more different to Avail.

This is his sixth studio album, and he’s also released a couple of live efforts, a collection, and a split EP with English folk-punk singer Frank Turner.

Barry’s records are always built on his personal experiences, but none have felt as raw as The Roads To Richmond, which feels like entries ripped out of a personal diary of heartbreak and set to acoustic guitar.

Its 12 tracks chronicle a period of transition, during which he made the decision to live solely on music, split up with his wife, lived in a van, then an apartment on ‘the bad side of town’, before buying a home for the first time.

Tim Barry. Pic: Nicole C. Kibert.

From opener Big Ships onwards, it’s clear this record is Barry laying bare his innermost feelings, as he tries to adjust to his new life. “Big ships turn slow, stop and take a rest, let others pass by, some are left to drift …I’m just trying to get through another day…ain’t no one to blame but me.”

On Giving Up he sings: “Do you ever feel like giving up, have you had enough, do you ever feel like I am your worst enemy, I can’t help that I’m trying, and I’ve been doing fine, yeah I’m doing fine”, before turning the final chorus on himself.

The bleakest song here, and the best, is April’s Fool. Set against yearning pedal steel and full of pathos, he pours out his soul: “Feel like a stranger, in my hometown, moved into the van, and blacked out.”

Boxwine And Xanax is another song where he shares every bit of the heartache he’s been through, and you genuinely feel for his wellbeing when he concludes “can’t go on like this another day”.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Bent Creek is about the cathartic effect of swapping the city for the great outdoors, while Oh My Darling, a song for his elder daughter, sees him channelling the spirit of Johnny Cash, and the gentle Coralee is for his younger girl – he clearly dotes on his kids.

Fussin’ Over is another more upbeat track which sees him looking forward, not back, and declaring: “My hometown ain’t the same as it used to be, ain’t no use in fussin’ over fate.”

Parts of this album aren’t easy to listen to, as Barry pours out his heart and soul, but if it helped him cope with enormous life-changing circumstances, it was probably cheaper than therapy. And if it helps anyone else going through the same rollercoaster of emotions, then that’s job done. 7/10.

Gary Welford owner