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Bobby Bare 

The Moon Was Blue (Dualtone)

To think that the music industry had a potential super-genre to milk and didn't jump all over it. The suits who oversaturated our ears with boy bands, rap-rock, and grunge had an opportunity with revitalized country singers after Johnny Cash's successful American series, but it's probably better that they didn't; after all, Kenny Rogers never burdened us with a Public Enemy duet album.

Bobby Bare's return after more than two decades of recorded silence won't be overhyped that way, which is good, because The Moon Was Blue isn't so much a year's best album as it is a pleasant surprise. The album isn't just produced by Bobby Bare Jr. -- Bare's son spreads '70s soul and country on every song with such care that the album comes off more like a tribute to the country great. Anyone expecting raw emotions equivalent to Cash's final recordings will be disappointed, as Bare Jr.'s arrangements give an odd, springtime step to melancholy covers like "Ballad of Lucy Johnson" and "Lovers in the Sand." But there's an exception: Opener "Are You Sincere" is the most gorgeous country song of the year, with Bare's worn voice belting a lover's plea over strings and cooing harmony vocals. It's the best father-son picnic you're likely to attend.

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