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Published: 2013/02/08
by Larson Sutton

Paul Barrere
Riding the Nova Train

Inherent curiosity follows any solo album from a member of a still-active, currently touring band. Even more so when that musician comes from a group whose history is entering its fifth decade, and only six months earlier issued its own studio album. Such is the case of Paul Barrere, a 40-year veteran of Little Feat who, along with songwriting partner Roger Cole, offers Riding the Nova Train, a ten-song set collected from the past seven years of recordings. It’s possible that Barrere’s recent public admission of an ongoing battle with Hepatitis C that requires a hiatus from all musical activity for a year encouraged the timing of the release, but whatever the case it’s a welcome addition to the guitar player’s catalog.

The curtain rises on “Again and Again,” a pulsing New Wave groove with a wry hook in the chorus and barely-there polyrhythmic percussion. It’s a wash of clean riffs and syncopated breaks that reveal a relatively progressive approach for the six-string master. Then, it gets heavy as Barrere marches out a trio of mid-tempo modern blues. “Better Daze” dovetails nicely in the outro with a stampede of charging guitars. The title track swaggers and staggers with a modulating solo break and spoken-sung vocals updating Captain Beefheart and Howlin’ Wolf influences, respectively . “Miss Believin’” completes the sequence emphasizing loud guitars, unaffected and un-effected drum tones, and sly, slightly cynical humor. Not a long drive from the territory Barrere usually inhabits, but will not immediately remind listeners of Little Feat, either.

That is until “One Eyed Jack,” a sunny bopper that would fit nicely on any Feat record or setlist. It’s surprising it hasn’t already. The angular “Number Six Dance,” with a passing Jimi Hendrix lyrical reference, introduces the second half. No coincidence probably as Riding really is a guitar album with its multitude slicing and intersecting, cutting in and out of verses and screaming through solos without self-indulgence. Barrere’s trademark slide climbs crescendos and doubles in harmony pushing the decibel line into the red throughout.

Just at that moment the record shifts with the traditional “In My Time of Dying” featuring a stripped back acoustic arrangement and impassioned voice. “Pumpin’ the A,” has some fun, allowing lyrically for some interpretation; Barrere has never been shy about his affection for the double entendre. Electric blues returns on “Right Outta Wrong,” this time nice and slow, before the idyllic “Why Ya Wanna Do Me,” a track co-authored by the late Texas songwriter Stephen Bruton, concludes its river ride through the Delta.

Paul Barrere’s debut solo album 30 years ago was titled On My Own Two Feet. Cleverly ironic, it distanced himself at the time from the disbanded Little Feat with a ‘punny’ reminder of his membership. Riding the Nova Train doesn’t imply the same breakaway independence as that album, rather it feels more like a holiday from work, a trip to someplace new but with a familiar guide at the wheel. Ostensibly co-billed with Roger Cole, and not to suggest that Cole’s contributions weren’t critical, but if Barrere is considered one-sixth of Little Feat’s sound, here his voice and guitar are focal points on every cut. For those who have wanted the more complete picture, this is it.

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