Review Summary: Paul Baribeau's self-titled debut album firmly establishes himself as the leader of the pack in modern folk music.
Who the hell is Paul Baribeau? Simply put, he's a guy from Michigan who can kinda play guitar and has no singing talent whatsoever. This is the description that I was given when a friend loaned me his discography including his self-titled debut and his follow-up, "Grand Ledge". After such a sub-par description, I figured maybe my friend was under-exaggerating the music. How could a mediocre guitar player who's singing ***ty songs have become my friends' new favorite artist? Well, after listening to his entire collection, I agree totally with my buddy; Paul Baribeau is an alright guitar player, a God awful singer, and the greatest folk singer since Bob Dylan (and I'm not exaggerating one bit). For this review, I look at his self-titled debut, which was written, recorded, and produced all in one night.
1. Tablecloth - A very interesting choice for an opener. "Tablecloth" contains no real guitar playing. Baribeau simply beats on the side of his guitar and reminisces about an ex-girlfriend who "made a skirt from an old tablecloth". There's a very primal feel to this song. Baribeaus' vocals are scratchy and often off-time but if you're like me, you'll have a visual of bearded hippies sitting around a fire and somehow, this picture that Baribeau paints in your head makes you forget about anything seemingly "wrong" with the song. 8/10
2. I Thought I Could Find You - For the first time on the album, we get a glimpse of Baribeau's frantic guitar playing. I almost feel sorry for the strings on his acoustic guitar. Listening to the album, it's hard to believe that he went the entire night without snapping every last one of them. "I Thought I Could Find You" is as quick as it is fast, as if Baribeau had those only one and a half minutes to capture some fleeting emotion. 8/10
3. Only Babies Cry - In this third song, Baribeau shares a little secret with us; he's an excellent crafter of melodies. He sings emotionally about missing the old band he used to play with back in the day that "never cut it on the local scene". After each verse, he reminds himself that "only babies cry" and continues on. 10/10
4. Strawberry - "To say that you are cute would be like saying that a strawberry is sweet because a strawberry has secret flavors that a sharp and tart and red and deep and I would love to find you growing wild out in the woods. I would make a basket with the front of my t-shirt and take home as many of you as I could." Baribeau sings this shyly over a tropical-esque guitar. I would venture to say that this song is even sweeter than the strawberry it sings about but I'd rather not make such a silly pun. 9/10
5. Boys Like Me - When I first heard "Boys Like Me", I thought it was the most depressing song I'd ever heard (three tracks later, I found out that Baribeau was only getting started with the depression but more on that later). Baribeau sings about his loveless parents, his puppy who he had to have put down, and his lost love. He tells us that "there's no moral to this story" but that he wishes everyone were happy but there are too many "broken hearted boys like me everywhere you look." 10/10
6. I Miss That Band - Imagine your favorite band breaks up today. Sucks, doesn't it? Now, imagine that you lost your favorite record by them. Wow, you're having a bad day. Well, it happened to Baribeau and "I Miss That Band" is his emotional tribute to, not only the band itself, but all the feelings that their words and music gave him. With the emotion and longing in his voice, you could swear that he might just be singing about a girl named "that band" but no. Baribeau lost the love of his life and she was a band. 9/10
7. Brown Brown Brown - "Brown Brown Brown" has the catchiest guitar "riff" on the entire album. It's still very folk but at the same time, it's easy to dance to. If Baribeau would ever bother to get his old band back together, songs like "Brown Brown Brown" could bring folk rock back to the forefront of mainstream music. It's that good. 10/10
8. Never Get to Know - "Never Get to Know" quickly replaced "Boys Like Me" as the most depressing song I've ever heard. Baribeau sings about his best friends, neighbors, and family, first telling us about their wonderful talents that once enthralled them and then revealing the way in which they squandered their art. His friend Melissa got pregnant at 16, his best friend killed himself, and, in the most emotional moment of any album I've ever heard (ever), Baribeau screams/cries "I'll never get to know my Mom cause my Mom is an alcoholic." This song is an absolute must hear. At it's end, Baribeau sings "I've been let down by the people I love but I won't let down those who love me". 10/10
9. Jordan - Clocking in at just over 30 seconds, Jordan is an a capella song about a friend (girlfriend?) who moves to the city. It's a sweet little song and nice balance to "Never Get to Know". 7/10
10. When You Go Back to College - "When You Go Back to College" shows a calmer Baribeau than we've seen so far on the album. The guitars are less frantic and Baribeau's singing is much more tame than before. It's still a good song, just not the Baribeau we've learned to love so far. 7/10
11. Blue Eyes - Baribeau's in love. Unfortunately, he's been separated from the lucky girl and is left to simply remember about her and her "blue eyes, your baby blue eyes". Here, Baribeau proves that he doesn't have to be shouty and frantic in order to get our attention. He sings softly and sweetly over a very calming chord progression on his guitar. This is, perhaps, the best love song on the album and shows us the other side of Baribeau. 10/10
12. The Pier - After two straight songs of "calm Baribeau", we're treated with about 57 seconds of the same urgent shouting we enjoyed in the first half of the album. In his own words, he just smashes on his guitar and yells about walking along the pier and not being able to write songs. They say you should never write a song about writer's block but I think Baribeau can do just about anything he wants and get away with it. 10/10
13. Help a Kid Out - How does this stuff not get boring? More depressing yelling and string beating by Baribeau in this track. This song, just like all the others before, possesses a it's own little special component that prevents you from ever getting bored with the songs. Once you think you've figured Baribeau out, he sends something different your way. "Help a Kid Out" is a song about not being able to handle your problems alone and never being able to finish anything. I have the same exact pro....... 10/10
14. Things I Don't Do - The last song on the album is a capella and about dreaming of a happy life with the girl you love. Baribeau is clearly tired after an entire night of shouting and it shows in his out-of-breath laments for the girl he longs for. 10/10