It’s rare to run across an album as unrelentingly positive as Backyard Tire Fire’s Good to Be that doesn’t make you want to pull your brain out through your nose with ice tongs. But the band’s chief songwriter/singer/guitarist Ed Anderson is too talented a lyricist, and his band too capable musically, to serve up a sugary disc of platitudes. And Los Lobos’s Steve Berlin wouldn’t produce that kind of album.
The closest comparison to Good to Be is Six String Drag’s High Hat, a lost treasure packed with different styles of American rock and country. Like Six String Drag, Backyard Tire Fire deftly assimilates different styles and sounds without losing the signature that identifies them. There is still a core that is Backyard Tire Fire, whether it’s the jaunty verses of “Learning to Swim,” the Tom Petty-like chorus of “Estelle,” the McCartney-esque guitar picking that opens “Hell and Back,” the happy toe-tapping of the title track, or the dirty blues of “Road Song #39.”
Anderson has a proclivity for lightly overdriven, crunchy guitars that can drive a mid-tempo rocker like “Ready or Not” or float in the background and accent a bouncing bassline, as on “Brady.” And Anderson’s voice is smooth but with undeniable twang, comfortably in range with the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood and former Six String Drag singer Kenny Roby.
There’s a grit to the happiness on Good to Be. Every moment of joy is fought for and earned. The title character in “Estelle” had a baby at 20 years old and still went back to school, and is trying to make a life for herself. As Anderson sings, “She’s happy/She’s not needy/She’s an independent lady and likes to be.” “Learning to Swim” is about a relationship long past the honeymoon stage but far from stagnant – there’s no small amount of humor in the line “I get the feeling right now/The feeling that this just might work.”
The title track is the most hopeful of the bunch, singing the praises of honest struggle over a poppy two and four beat, a strumming acoustic guitar, and merrily plinking piano. “It’s a minor inconvenience,” sings Anderson, “My fingers crack and then they bleed/Sometimes it hurts in a good way/Sometimes it’s just what I need.” It’s hard not to feel inspired by the chorus, “It’s okay/It’s all right/I’m alive/And it’s good to be.”
When music like this appears, it is good to be alive.
Preview the "Good to Be" music video:
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