Chattanooga singer-songwriter Webb Barringer evokes a timeless folk lineage that lays claim to the bones of his work. His songs are steeped in an acoustic revelry that combines the blaring ferociousness of his harmonica with the gentle plucks and strums of his guitar. His music is clearly influenced by the humidity and country twang of the South but is not bound by the rhythmic boundaries of that specific geography. An able troubadour, he deftly mixes fiction with nonfiction to build a believable environment of desperate individuals and unfortunate circumstances. There is some hope as well, though, a hesitant streak of light that reaches into the darker recesses of his imagination.
On his new record, “Show That Tombstone Smile,” Barringer travels down the same lonesome roads that once carried the thoughts of artists like John Prine, Steve Earle and Bob Dylan. There’s always room for storytellers in the world, and Barringer is more than willing to share a few of his experiences with anyone with a spare moment. His voice is full of a passionate history, while the strings of his acoustic guitar shake with the fervor of his Americana and folk convictions. These are familiar sounds, but he imbues them with a focus and determination that so few of his musical peers even approach.
Opening with the acoustic harmonica bounce of “Jekyll” and going on to the caustic “Tri-State,” he mixes personal relevance with broader emotional associations, creating a set of songs that welcome you into their embrace even as they detail some dark events. These songs reveal an awareness of the flexibility inherent to the singer-songwriter aesthetic, a malleable sound that ricochets off the craggy surfaces of Barringer’s own experiences. He pours a good deal of himself into this noise, as unlike other singers, he doesn’t simply provide the bare necessities in terms of his own engagement with the material. “Show That Tombstone Smile” is a fascinating and tonally resonant piece of acoustic wonder.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.