Liner Note Author: Ian McFarlane.
Recording information: Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville, TN; Jack's Tracks Recording Studio, Nashville, TN; The Soundshop, Nashville, TN.
Raven's 2012 two-fer pairs his 1981 album As Is and its 1982 sequel, Ain't Got Nothin' to Lose, adding four bonus tracks from 1983's Drinkin' from the Bottle for good measure. These two albums find Bare's Columbia hot streak of the late '70s/early '80s winding down, and the shift to a slower gear can't help but feel a little deliberate after 1980s' wild, woolly twins Down & Dirty and Drunk & Crazy. Bare rebounded from those party records by teaming up with producer Rodney Crowell and settling into a well-worn, soulful surrounding, one that suits an aging outlaw who can still kick up a little dust -- a cover of Guy Clark's "New Cut Road" positively shreds -- but prefers spending his time reflecting on his past. As such, there's a sweetly melancholy undertow to As Is that's quite appealing, particularly as the slight sadness is comforting. Plus, Bare still can deliver songs with a sly grin -- "Dollar Pool Fool," a terrific take on J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" -- and he has the natural grace of a storyteller, keeping As Is compelling even when the sound is soft and warm. Comparatively, Ain't Got Nothin' to Lose has a lighter, brighter air, even if a good chunk of it is also quite mellow. It helps that the title track -- also the album's hit -- is a bit of a rowdy throwback to the loose-limbed Bare of a few years back, one who is ready for a rumble, and a lively take on "Goodnight Irene," the bluesy grind "Cold Day in Hell," and the sardonic "Praise the Lord and Send Me the Money" all share a similar attitude. The rest of the album follows the relaxed lead of As Is, taking its sweet time as Bare spends his time in warm reverie. While the songs aren't quite as strong and the production not quite as sharp as it was a year earlier, the whole of the LP is satisfying, a nice low-key effort that smartly relies on Bare's abundant charms. [The four bonus tracks from Drinkin' from the Bottle that are at the end are all lively, bright, and fun and, in the case of "Stacy Brown Got Two," quite silly.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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