Lincoln Barr: Trembling Frames

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Lincoln Barr is a songwriter and singer living in Yakima, Washington. After thirteen years leading pop group Red Jacket Mine, he's released his debut solo album, Trembling Frames - a set of deeply personal songs that grapple with trauma and the instability of memory.

Featuring a stellar cast of studio musicians, including Calexico drummer John Convertino, the album's sound revels in the beguiling complexity of the Great American Songbook and the work of (slightly) more contemporary auteurs like Burt Bacharach and Angelo Badalamenti.


MORE ABOUT 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


RECENT PRESS

"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