Punks find their inner Americana

By JON MEYER  |  August 31, 2007

Going the same route is Tim Barry, vocalist for longstanding punk rock heroes Avail. The Richmond-based outfit has been at it since the late-80s and though they haven’t released a new album in five years, still tour frequently (they’re headlining the Middle East in October). Famous for melding melodic hardcore with an affinity for classic southern rock, the band has an unmistakable folksy nature. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when Barry released his Laurel St. Demo in 2005, eight quick cuts of those trademark front porch stories — except acoustic, with banjo, with plucking. More beer hall than basement, these were honest confessions of a southern man in a world that’s too fast, too sure, and too shallow for what he has to offer. A full-length, Rivanna Junction, followed in 2006 and continues the politically-charged, country-tinged, train-hopping folk of his debut.

Released the same year was Cold as the Clay, Bad Religion frontman (and Ph.D) Greg Graffin’s first solo outing. Noted for speedy, melodic punk with uncommonly intelligent lyrics, Bad Religion have been playing music for 27 years and now exists as “nothing more than an artistic outlet” for the academic Graffin and co-songwriter Brett Gurewitz, who spends most of his time running a little record label called Epitaph (whose subsidiary, Anti-, released Clay). So why, out of nowhere, do a folk record?  You can’t have blaring Gurewitz guitar solos or rhyme “government” with “jurisprudence” in a straight-ahead folk song. The album’s detailed liner notes put it this way: “We set out create a record that would honor the legacy of American music, and it is my hope that we were able to capture a lasting musical moment. I wanted to show how my work with Bad Religion was informed by other, seemingly disparate and unconventional genres of music that at first glance may appear to have nothing to do with punk. My hope is that this project will live to pass along the tradition of American songwriting to others long after I am buried and cold as the clay.”

The man may be on to something. When Bob Dylan first came along, he brought folk to pop music at a time when pop was shiny and happy and the world wasn’t. It altered history. Earnest political anthems became not only popular, but poetry. Punk might have been swept along, cleaned up, dirtied again, then separated into a million different subgenres created to simplify things when really it only complicated everything. Bands like Against Me! may have signed to major labels. But if Westerberg, Ragan, Barry, and Graffin prove anything, it’s that it’s still around, maybe popping up in a different form. With that said, I patiently await the Tom Gabel solo record after all this AM! hoopla blows over in a few years (or months).

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