Bob Wayne – Outlaw Carnie (Music Review)

Outlaw Carnie cover

Bob Wayne – Outlaw Carnie

One of the big debates in modern underground country is whether the “outlaw” style revitalized by Hank III has run its course. If you aren’t tired of it yet, then check out Bob Wayne’s Outlaw Carnie album. It may very well be the one that pushes you over the edge.

That’s not to say you won’t enjoy it. A lot of the songs on this album are simple fun, with a real understanding of how to strip a story down to the bare essence of music and lyrics. Wayne’s songwriting is outstanding. But the life depicted here seems almost like a parody of outlaw country: Drinking, fighting, robbing banks, and shooting the cheaters at the card table. Even the songs that start out with some vulnerability are feints, such as the lament about a cheating woman that turns into a claim that he won by cheating on her more. The music is similarly over the top, clearly showing Wayne’s metal roots. Though their country performance is serious, the unsubtle, loud music is at least as far from the country styles of a generation ago as modern pop country is.

The songs are a little better individually than they are as a whole. Apparently Wayne’s vision of a country outlaw involves stubbornly giving himself the victory in almost every story. Whether bragging that his band will back him up in any fight, somehow winning a blind five-against-one gunfight, or even having the ghost of Johnny Cash literally come down from the sky to save him, Wayne doesn’t seem aware of the power of songs about loss. Just look at “Mack”, the story of a “truck-drivin’, gun totin’, meth snorting, blue collar, true American hero”. Wayne never explains what makes this murderous drug smuggler a hero, other than the fact that he’s the protagonist of the song, and that the dealer he kills happens to be worse.

You would never guess much about the real Wayne – a recovering addict who has had experience fighting off demons – from the mask he puts on here. Only “Driven By Demons” shows how a song can be rowdy and rebellious while still acknowledging the cost of that lifestyle. I’m not saying that every one needs to end with the narrator paying a price, but a few more like that would have made the album feel a lot more fleshed out.

Wayne lets the bravado slip for a single song, “Blood to Dust,” which has the most fascinating story and is apparently true. Despite some amateur lyrics (“I was born in 1977, the year that Elvis died and went to Heaven”), it builds up to one of the best country music refrains of the past few years:

They say some things in our lives are best forgotten,

I say those are things that make you who you are.

So be proud of what you got, and where you come from,

‘Cause from blood to dust well it ain’t very far.

This would be a standout track on almost any album.

But for every bright point, Outlaw Carnie has something to counter it. “2012” is an embarrassing spoken-word album closer, mixing junk science with bigotry to argue that an apocalypse would be a blessing. (Did you know the fact that “them Muslims, they’re all multiplying” is one of the reasons that we’d all be better off dead?)

Outlaw Country is an incredibly uneven work. Bob Wayne can write excellent and incisive lyrics, but has no vision for combining them into a cohesive whole. When the quality keeps up for an entire song, the results are great. At his worst, though, he manages to bring down the good songs by association. I enjoy a lot of this, but don’t have much desire to listen to to half of the songs on it any more. It will be fascinating to see how Wayne grows as an artist from here. At least, I sincerely hope that he grows.

Grade: C+

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    • Otto
    • July 14th, 2012

    You do of course realize that Muslim is a religion, not a race, therefore making it not racist…

    • You’re right, racist was the wrong term. I still think it comes across as bigoted, though, and Wayne does mention “the Arabs and the Chinese” later in the song. In context, that line is arguably patriotic (“we need to help the US do better”) instead of racist. But in combination with the complaint about Muslims multiplying, the impression it left me with was not a good one.
      I corrected the article to say “bigotry” instead of “racism”.

  1. March 20th, 2013

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