Bobby Sweet goes out on his own in new CD

As published in the Berkshire Eagle on July 10, 2011

CD Review: Cowboys and Poets. Bobby Sweet. BSweet Records,

Bobby Sweet

Bobby Sweet comes from a long line of fiddle-playing, square dance-calling, free-wheeling Berkshire musicians…and it shows. What’s in his blood pours out into his music in the form of melodies and lyrics that exide experience and history.

An extremely talented song-writer, singer, and guitarist, Sweet has played and recorded with the likes of Arlo and Sarah Lee Guthrie, Martin Sexton, and Wilile Nelson. But on his newest album, “Cowboys and Poets,” Sweet is all on his onw (besides his band, of course), a lonesome Northeast cowboy cronning over lost loves and recounting old stories.

Sweet’s sound is a rare breed of AMerican rots style that draws heavily on folk, country, and rock, as well as jazz, Latin, and African music. This broad spectrum gives himt he ability to reinvent himself on each album, while still staying true to his heritage and keeping his ardent fans satisfied. While Sweet’s last album, “Days Roll By,” was primarily upbeat and filled with songs about nature and social action, his latest release focuses more on that brand of reflective country music that speaks of universal emotions and situations.

The opening track of “Cowboys and Poets,” “Wings of Yesterday,” sets a sentimental, romantic tone and immediately shows of Sweet’s lyrical skills. The chorus, “After all we’ve been through/ Part of me belongs to you/ I am bound to fly away/ on the wings of yesterday,” delivers heartache so sweetly that it’s hard to tell whether this song is about an old love or a lost love. Of course, Sweet’s songwriting extends well beyond the lovesick.

“A Tale About Love” is an old-timey courting song with charming metaphorical lyrics about a cat’s “tale,” delivered with slick Buddy Holly vocals. “Liar” is a down-and-dirty, honky-tonk break-up song tinged with biting rhymes and sweet revenge; and “Somewhere” brings out the true roaming cowboy in Sweet, with deep, Johnny Cash-style voice dives into the deep.

Unfortunately, some of the songs on this album just fall flat, lyrically or otherwise. “Begins and Ends” is chock full of cliche lines like “You’ll be surprised/ At the strength you find/ When you learn to love yourself,” and the cynical-sounding vocals to “Nobody’s Valentine” simply don’t mesh with the cutesy lyrics like “If tears were nickels/ You’d be rich by now;” it’s as if the singers are mocking the subject rather than consoling them.

“Grace of a Song” just seems out of place: the religious-sounding chordal progressions and painfully slow lyrics about the power of music is overwrought.

The best tracks on “Cowboys and Poets” are those that showcase Sweet really having a fun time while paying an homage to classic country-folk.

“Who We Are” is a talking blues number with slow and smooth vocals and a Latin-tinges guitar line. “Shut Up” speaks to that annoying friend that everyone knows that just doesn’t, well, shut up. Unlike “Nobody’s Valentine,” the discordance between the biting lyrics and sweet-sounding guitar picking make for a good, ironic laugh.

“Slide Over” is the funnest track by far on the record, a simple song about the woes of a man who’s lost his car with literal “slide” in the slide guitar and gruff men’s backup vocals repeating a sing-along chorus.

Finally, the standout track is the one that gives the album its title, appropriately so. Sweet channels fellow Berkshirite James Taylor with this melodic tune that teaches a lesson about life through simple rhymes and a smart choice of words. It’s an uncomplicated song that almost sounds familiar, but Sweet is at his best here, at ease with his voice and the acoustic vibe, as if he’s performing in his own back yard. Being a sixth-generation Berkshire musician releasing his sixth album, this song sums up Sweet’s life work in one verse: “For better or for worse/ Life is unrehearsed/ And every little verse/ Is just a step along the way/ Some old cowboy song/ Just might carry you back home/ Out where you’re free to roam/ ‘Til the end of your days.”