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Drew Barrett - The Strolling Minstrel

Roam If You Want To
by: mark feldman

The cover to this album is deceiving - a long haired, wandering minstrel through the streets of New York, a blood-red filter, makes us expect to mellow out. But perhaps we should have paid more attention to the color of that filter, because this ain't no Paul Simon record. Drew Barrett's roots are firmly entrenched in the big production, excessive rock of the '70s and early '80s. His deep and resonant delivery recalls David Bowie, and some of his music does too, like the glam anthem "City of Sin" and the spacey semi-acoustic ballad "Visitors from Saturn's Moon." But he goes further than being just a Bowie ripoff on this adventurous new disc.

One of the most excessive and best tracks is "Soldier Song," which holds its own with Def Leppard's "Gods of War," Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and Guns 'n' Roses' "Civil War" in the category of loud and powerful heavy metal peace anthems. It may be easy to laugh at that comparison, but those are pretty high standards for anyone who aspires to them. And it really does evoke the same emotion as those classics. The sad tale of a lover's betrayal "Caught in the Act," in spite of the drum machine, is just as powerful - when Barrett screams out "Don't you TRYYYYY to explain / you can just WAAAASH away the pain / why should I TRYYYY to escape / when I'm not the one who is to blame?" you can't help but shed a tear of your own.

But Barrett has a sense of humor too. "A Change is on the Way" sports a countryish attitude and mock (or at least I think they're mock) lesson-teaching messages like "You can never find happiness if you don't look inside yourself." "Billy-Bob" is an unforgettable jab at our country's beloved leader that urges Mr. Clinton to "show some modesty and dignity" and step down ("Do we send or do we boot you out?") it's actually tough to tell how serious this song is, but whether Barrett really thinks Clinton should leave office because of what he did or whether he's merely making fun of the whole mess, he deserves a round of applause for the guts it took to write a song like this.

The Strolling Minstrel isn't all about gimmicks either. There is some really good genuine songwriting here. "Lovers," a duet with Corinne Barrett, is that rare romantic ballad you can listen to and not gag. The arrangement is straight out of Alice Cooper land - it could be two vampires singing to each other and still be sincere. And the sprawling "Is There Somewhere Else We Go" falls somewhere in the progressive but far from overblown zone. Overall, Drew Barrett has made an extremely promising debut - as he sings in "City of Sin," "it's not for everyone / but everyone is welcome." Turn this one up to 11, and be prepared both to laugh and cry.

For RealAudio and MP3s, check out his website:

Artist Drew Barrett
Album The Strolling Minstrel
Label Skyward
Date July 1999
Web drewbarrett.com

3.5 out of 5.0