In 2010, No Use For a Name frontman Tony Sly dipped his toe into the punk-guy-turned-acoustic-troubadour pool with 12 Song Program, which featured a dozen stripped down tracks with a Beatles-y sensibility that often recalled Jets to Brazil’s quieter moments. He did a ton of touring, notably with Lagwagon’s Joey Cape and Jon Snodgrass of Drag the River, had some fun and apparently got completely hammered and introspective, because he came home and whipped out another twelve solo numbers for his upcoming release Sad Bear, due out on Fat Wreck Chords on October 11th, and this shit is boozy, angry, heartbroken, frustrated, happy, nostalgic…look, I could go on and on like this, but suffice it to say that if 12 Song Program was testing the waters of having a solo career, Sad Bear is a cannonball into the deep end.
Lyrically, Tony’s never been more open or vulnerable, touching on everything from love to poverty, self medication to faith, to getting older, having kids and still being as confused and angry as a teenaged punk rocker. Oh, and booze. Sad Bear seems to have left the honey and picnic baskets behind and picked up a few fifths of whiskey. Tony said “_the lyrics on this record are my most uninhibited and honest words ever_” and it’s easy to see why he feels that way. This shit isn’t afraid to get dark, to be funny or to be brutally self-aware. I’d probably need a drink too after writing these songs.
Right around now, you’re probably thinking what everyone thinks when confronted with an album like this and it’s: “Oh, great. Another dude pretending to be a poor hick singing about cotton gins and whiskey stills that he’s never seen in a fake accent he doesn’t really have.” Well, firstly, real nice. Secondly, Sad Bear is anything but a shit-kickin’-culture-slumming Americana record. Though the main instrumentation centers around the acoustic guitar, Tony brought in eleven different guest musicians to flesh out the sound, which features accordion, piano, pennywhistle, drums, some weird circus-y sounding organ, some distorted guitar and a whole shit-ton of ambient percussion, including, if my ears don’t deceive me, a triangle. Far from southern fried, Tony instead tackles melody head on and the results are, dare I say, reminiscent of such heavy-hitting 70’s melodic powerhouses as Billy Joel and Elton John, songs you kind of feel like you’ve heard before because the melodies are so distinctive. In a world of dull, same-y solo outings from guys in aggressive bands, Sad Bear stands out because it feels a little risky. It’s not easily categorizeable and it’s definitely not what people are expecting. It’s big melodic songs in small, sad, deceptively simple little packages.
If you missed the Sad Bear tour, worry not because dream team Tony Sly and Joey Cape are reuniting for another Fat release titled Acoustic Volume 2, out on June 19th! Joey’s side features five acoustic Lagwagon songs and a new tune while Tony has matched him with five stripped down NUFAN numbers and his own new song. These two have been touring together like crazy over the past few years so it’s a safe bet that they’ll keep it going in support of Acoustic Volume 2. Wherever there’s a dim barroom with a microphone and a few beer taps, look for Joey and Tony, their acoustic guitars and their insistence that one of them will buy the next round, lurking around near the back. They’ll be doing select US dates as well as jaunts in the UK and Europe, so get out your lighters and your inside voices and get stoked to see the intimate, stripped down, slightly inebriated with no-one-else-to-blame-anything-on side of two of Fat Wreck’s most beloved songwriters.