While Avail is theoretically still active and signed to Fat Wreck, Barry's been doing solo shows and tours for a while now. It's been tough for me. Barry is a dyed in the wool, train-hopping VA boy who has always displayed a populist bent in his lyrics, but hearing him singing with acoustic, bluegrass backing has been kind of jarring for me. I grew up on mountain music, and on the early records, I thought that Tim's heart was in the right place, but the acoustic music hasn't always been the best arena for his songs.
Manchester is probably the best-realized recording of Barry's material, splitting the difference between contemplative introspection and rowdier roadhouse fare. There's a Steve Earle kind of "fuck you" attitude behind them that is admirable, but I expect that the beer-drinking train stuff ups the bro factor in the crowd just a little more than I would like. Maybe I just haven't found the right white ball cap as yet. Tim hasn't yet attained the flow of quality Earle songs like "Johnny Come Lately", but songs like "Texas Cops" and "South Hill" show leanings in that direction. He's got a plain-spoken, almost folksy, way of painting a picture that's effectively genuine and as engaging as the man himself.
"This November" is probably the strongest song on Manchester, striking the best combination of Barry's earnest lyrics and sing-a-long hooks. Songs like "Sagacity Gone" are probably live sing-along-favorites as well, but in more of a Todd Snider beer-drinking sort of way. Avail was always a grass-roots band and Barry is using the same tenets with his solo stuff, playing as many backyards and house parties as he is bars and theaters. He's been out on the road of late with Ben Nichols from Lucero and William Elliott Whitmore. Rubbing elbows with heavy-weights such as they can only sharpen his game. Tim Barry is a talented musician who has improved markedly with every release. That precedent being established, we may very well see Tim eclipse the notoriety he's achieved with Avail.