Living in Gainesville, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone in a punk band, a fact that has certainly helped me broaden my musical horizons and discover artists like Tim Barry. Tim Barry was the front man for Avail, a DC-area punk band big in the 90s, before switching focus to solo records in the 00s. It would be easy to dismiss his as just another aging-punk-goes-country cliche, but the earnestness of his music helps him stand out from the pack. Lyrically, his stuff is brutally honest, dealing with topics like busted relationships, what it means to be punk/authentic, and critiques of modern capitalism and the rat race it creates. His live shows almost take on the feel of a self-help session, with Barry preaching his back-to-basics ethos and the virtues of independent living.
An integral part of this worldview involves trains, as he is an avid fan of hopping trains out of his home in Richmond. For Barry, and indeed for any of the many modern-day tramps out there, riding the rails is both a way to see and experience the underbelly of America, the backs of towns, and forgotten countrysides traversed by rail lines, and its the ultimate way to get off the grid and drop out of modern life for a while. For more on train hopping, check out this documentary, Cure for the Crash, a film I randomly discovered in the course of a night out on Frenchman Street in New Orleans. It should thus come as no surprise that Barry is one of the more prolific modern producers of train songs.
Church of Level Track is off Rivanna Junction, his first full solo album which also happens to boast a railroad-inspired name. The song tells the tale of using a journey around the southeast to figure things out with a buddy. The narrator smokes, drinks and contemplates life on a freight train heading south from Rocky Mount (in NC) to Florida, but when the train breaks up in Jacksonville, his friend heads west towards Pensacola. Riding the rails is living life to the fullest, as Barry sings in the chorus, “if I die thinking here I wont die wondering how life could’ve turned out.” Barry also warns “sometimes its best to slow your pace when you cant control it.” While I probably lack the fortitude and sense of adventure to ride the rails like Barry, this is certainly worthwhile advice in these times of fast-living and constant connectedness.