Lincoln Barr is a composer and singer based in Columbia, SC. After leading Seattle-based pop group Red Jacket Mine for 13 years, he released his debut solo album, Trembling Frames, in 2017. Set to a backdrop equal parts Great American Songbook and Angelo Badalamenti, the album explored Barr’s own childhood trauma and its aftermath with haunting, heartbreaking results, and marked a creative and personal turning point.
This watershed moment led directly into the composition and recording of Cruel Dream: Music From and Inspired by The Past is Never Dead, with many of the same musicians contributing, including Calexico drummer John Convertino, Brooklyn-based saxophonist Levon Henry, and guitarist/co-producer Johnny Sangster.
Cruel Dream: Music From and Inspired by The Past is Never Dead was released on all digital and streaming platforms on May 17, 2019, to coincide with the film’s release on Amazon Prime.
December 2018 update: I was very honored to be a guest on the Nakedly Examined Music podcast recently. We discuss “Desperate Tormentors” and “How to Escape” from Trembling Frames, along with a couple of older Red Jacket Mine tracks. Listen on your favorite podcast app, or stream it below!
CRITICAL PRAISE FOR TREMBLING FRAMES
"Lincoln Barr has made his masterpiece here. I hope you get to find it. It’s so clearly the sound of him (once again) finding himself." - Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks
"Both loose and sure-footed at the same time...Barr's created a certain magic and mystique." - Lee Zimmerman, Blurt Magazine
"A record like no other...a wholly genuine musical/artistic statement." - Bill Kopp, Musoscribe
"A triumph of pop’s finest instincts celebrated by a songwriter refusing to let go of ambition and the creative impulse." - Kevin Mathews, Power of Pop
"An instant 'wow'...one of those albums that needs to be heard and experienced and shared." - Robert Ross, Popdose
THE STORY OF TREMBLING FRAMES
Things are rarely what they seem. Horrors hide behind the facade of suburban normalcy. If the songs of Trembling Frames often echo the mid-century vocal pop and cool jazz beloved by filmmaker David Lynch, perhaps that's because Lincoln Barr also appreciates how a calm veneer can conceal dark secrets.
In 2015, Barr – leader of Seattle-area combo Red Jacket Mine – found himself in a deep depression. The band's previous releases, Someone Else's Cake (2013) and the Pure Delight EP (2014), ranked among its finest, garnering radio airplay and critical praise. So why, at the height of accomplishment, did the songwriter feel so miserable?
Creatively, Barr felt he'd reached an impasse. "Frankly, I was getting bored with myself," he admits. But the true source of his problems went deeper. In therapy, Barr started to confront the true source of his turmoil and paralyzing despair: his abusive childhood.
At this critical juncture, Barr unexpectedly wrote "How to Escape." He didn't know the loping original would eventually become the second track on his solo debut, but he recognized it as a breakthrough nevertheless. "I hadn't heard a song like this from myself before," he admits. "It was the first time I'd surprised myself in a long while."
And after that…nothing. A long dry spell. Though he continued to make progress confronting the years of pain and hurt he'd long compartmentalized, he'd stalled on the artistic front—and felt disillusioned as a result. "If I'm not writing, what am I doing?"
To force his hand, Barr booked a week-long residency as a solo act at Al's Den in Portland, OR during summer 2015. "I knew I didn't have enough songs," he admits. Under duress, his fear transformed into inspiration. Within six weeks, he'd penned a slew of new songs which would eventually form the heart of Trembling Frames.
This material revealed facets of Barr's artistry previously unheard in Red Jacket Mine. His longtime affinity for jazz standards, the Great American Songbook, and sophisticated AM radio fare a la Bacharach and David came to the fore in his melodies and chord changes. His vocals took on an understated elegance informed by the likes of Blossom Dearie and Chet Baker.
Perhaps most startling, his lyrics displayed a more personal tone. "Great artists have to risk something, and I honestly wasn't exposing much of myself up till then," Barr admits. He felt he’d been hitting a wall with getting through to people in Red Jacket Mine, but the new solo material connected with the audience at Al's Den—for better or worse. "Some of the songs clearly made certain people uncomfortable."
To strike a balance between light and shade that would best serve these new songs on record, Barr reached out to producer Johnny Sangster (Mudhoney, The Posies), who'd helmed Red Jacket Mine's last few recordings. "He was somebody I trusted to help me, and he wasn't afraid to tell me when my songs needed editing and refining."
From there, Sangster and Barr recruited the core trio of RJM pianist Daniel Walker, bassist Keith Lowe (BRAD, David Sylvian, Harold Budd), and Calexico drummer John Convertino. Sangster played guitar so Barr could focus on singing. The group worked quickly, laying down 13 songs, live to tape, in three days of January 2016.
"I had trouble sleeping the night before we started," he admits. "Perhaps it was fear of committing these songs and ideas to posterity: 'Now there's no turning back.'" The players appreciated the gravity of the situation, too. "This wasn't ‘just a job’ for anyone in the room."
To his relief, the ease of recording belied the material's troubled genesis. That studio chemistry is especially audible in the interactions with Barr's vocals, which quiver with heightened sensitivity. "When you have sympathetic musicians, their playing changes as they respond to the way you sing."
But what to call the finished product? Barr knew he had to release these songs under his own name. Finally, he chose an album title that hinted at some of the record's key themes: memory, point of view, vulnerability. With its echoes of frightened children and unsteady hands behind the camera, the title Trembling Frames seemed to fit.
In Red Jacket Mine, Lincoln Barr has long shown himself as an expert craftsman. Now that songwriting skill aligns with an unprecedented willingness to expose the fears that almost halted his progress. The music might sometimes sound like a nod to a past era of highballs and hi-fi, but even at its most reserved, Trembling Frames feels like a brave man taking his first steps into a brighter future.
— Kurt B. Reighley
NEM#88: Lincoln Barr’s Off-Center Vulnerability - Nakedly Examined Music podcast, December 19, 2018
"Rock and roll isn’t dead — it’s just gone underground: Top 10 albums of the year" by Johnny Vinyl, East Oregonian, December 23, 2017
"Red Jacket Mine’s Lincoln Barr Confronts His Ghosts on Trembling Frames" by Jim Allen, CultureSonar, October 16, 2017
"Review: Lincoln Barr - Trembling Frames" by Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks, August 20, 2017
"Seattle transplant brings evolving musical styles to Eastern Oregon" by James Dean Kindle, East Oregonian, May 19, 2017
"Album Review: Lincoln Barr - Trembling Frames" by Lee Zimmerman, Blurt Magazine, April 6, 2017
Episode 51: Free Vinyl Friday - Vinyl Emergency podcast, April 1, 2017
"Tonally awesome: Lincoln Barr and Head Like a Kite to perform Friday night" by Pat Muir, Yakima Herald-Republic, March 8, 2017
Band of the Week: Lincoln Barr by Gwendolyn Elliott, Seattle Magazine, February 28, 2017
Album Review: Lincoln Barr - Trembling Frames by Bill Kopp, Musoscribe, February 28, 2017
Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross podcast - Popdose, February 28, 2017
"Power of Pop Recommends | Pop Power! Lincoln Barr - Trembling Frames" by Kevin Mathews, Power of Pop, February 10, 2017
"Review: Lincoln Barr - Trembling Frames" by Vesa Lautamaki, One Chord to Another, February 10, 2017
"Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, February 2017" by Joseph Neff, The Vinyl District, February 9, 2017
Video: Lincoln Barr - "How to Escape" by Brian K. Saunders, Fretboard Journal, February 8, 2017
"Album Review: Lincoln Barr - Trembling Frames" by Robert Ross, Popdose, February 8, 2017
The Remix Podcast - KIRO Radio Seattle 97.3FM, January 28, 2017
"Lincoln Barr leaves Red Jacket Mine to make solo debut" - PledgeMusic blog, October 31, 2016
"Raising the Barr: An Interview with Lincoln Barr" by Shannon Mahre, Yakima Magazine, September 2, 2016
"Red Jacket Mine to play rare show in Yakima" by Pat Muir, Yakima Herald-Republic, July 20, 2016