Album Review- Jared Bartman ‘Misery Makes Strange Bedfellows’

Nashville – Jared Bartman is as much a poet and folklorist as he is an orchestral arranger. The power of song lyrics don’t often translate well to the written page, but this is not the case for Bartman. Listening to his new album, Misery Makes Strange Bedfellows, is like taking a hot air balloon to the jungles and beaches of South America, all the while staying with your American tour guide. The general buoyancy of the album will hook you; the vivid stories will keep you.

A ghostly waltz recounts a midnight walk through a graveyard (“Granada”). The poly-rhythmic qualities of salsa music weave throughout the album. They lend ironic zest to a story about unrequited love on “Garden Gate” as well as on a narration of a kidnapping and subsequent knife fight on “In Belize.”

Although Jared Bartman’s songs may lead you to believe he’s a danger-prone, tortured soul from a small town in South America, he is actually a young musician from the small town of Peoria, Illinois. His wife (sorry, ladies) sometimes sings backup vocals on his songs, and his toddler son even makes it onto the stage with them sometimes. Not exactly the bleeding heart, renegade narrator of Misery Makes Strange Bedfellows, but still a storyteller extraordinaire. In interviews, Bartman has cited inspiration from South American writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Roberto Bolaño. This doesn’t come as a surprise considering that his songs could easily be slipped in amongst the fiction and poetry of these authors.

Beyond being the literary sort who casually includes words like “ensconced” in his lyrics, Bartman is a musician skilled in his craft. Misery has poignant string quartets written into it. The strings’ dynamism is best heard on “Garden Gate” and “Therese.” Other than strings, he’s also written in parts for complex female harmonies (best on “The Cool of Your Temple”), myriad Latin instruments, flutes, and even the accordion.

Bartman’s accordion playing comes in with a Zydeco bite, mixing well with the distinctly Latin flavor of the album. The result isn’t a far cry from Gypsy music either. Fans of David Wax Museum and Gogol Bordello, rejoice: here is another indie musician incorporating world music. Here is a musician taking the same perfectionist pains as Andrew Bird and John Vanderslice. Here is someone doing it differently!

All of the detailed orchestration and perfectionism must be time consuming though. Misery is Bartman’s first album in five years and only his second full-length. His first album, Jersey Shore, (released only months before the infamous television show aired) displays Bartman’s precious talent. On Misery, that talent is honed and polished up. Producer/engineer for the album Scott Solter, who’s mixed Vanderslice, Okkervil River, Bombadil, etc., can probably be given a piece of the credit for Bartman’s shining new sound.

A tour isn’t on the books until March, and then he’ll only be hitting the west coast. It will surely be a challenge worth witnessing when Bartman brings the textures of Misery to the live setting. But what his album shows is a man who will perform with forethought, precision, and a healthy dose of dancing. With luck, a swell of support for Misery will pull him to other regions of the country, and hopefully to Nashville.

Thumbnail By CB Lindsey


Caroline McDonald

Caroline McDonald

My first memory is of singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” quietly to myself during preschool naptime. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Nashville where an instrument lives in every home, but music has gripped me for as long as I can remember.

After dabbling in many parts of the music industry—recording studios, PR, management, labels, publishing—I’m expanding into music journalism because I’m yet to find anything more rewarding that finding and sharing new music.

A longtime sucker for girls with guitars, my musical taste unabashedly follows the songwriting lineage of Dolly Parton and includes Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and Neko Case. But not to pigeonhole myself, my music love is big love that stretches from R.L. Burnside to Animal Collective to Lord Huron.

I’ve recently moved home to Nashville after living in Boston and Big Sur for several years. I’d forgotten how music pours onto the streets ten hours a day, seven days a week. I’m honored to share the creative explosion happening here. If your band is in the area or of the area, please reach out!
Caroline McDonald

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