Darrin Bradbury’s Talking Dogs and Atom Bombs, the singer-songwriter’s Anti- Records debut, pulls no punches on its dissection of daily life in American, but Bradbury tempers his cutting insights with a humor and wit, laughing at the absurdity that abounds at every turn. Packing 11 songs into 26 minutes, Talking Dogs and Atom Bombs wastes no time getting to the heart of each one. Like radio hits of old for the most part the songs here fall under the three minute mark. Although closer to a typical punk record length, this collection of songs feels complete; all fluff gone, only gold left. As Bradbury says, “This album is a still life of a still life, it’s the conversations you have with yourself in the morning over coffee, it’s intended to be the soundtrack of a day filled with nothing in particular and everything all at the same time.”
John Prine is too easy a comparison for Bradbury’s songwriting, reducing him to imitator when he is much more. While Prine’s influence is obviously present, Bradbury’s observations of the mundane take Prine’s combination of sadness and humor in a less carefree and more fatalistic direction.
On “Breakfast” Bradbury is “the God of cereal town” and ponders the death of his worshipers over a waltz as he sings, “then the skim milk pours down all over Cerealtown, for I am the god of Cerealtown, and the clusters unclust, and the bunches combust, and all of god’s oat children drowned“. Fantasized death of shredded wheat is not morbid – it’s just cereal! But, this is the slightly dark humor delivered in a self-deprecating tone that populates Talking Dogs and Atom Bombs and propels this collection to the pinnacle of songwriting achievement.
Margo Price appears on “The Trouble with Time,” a slow burning duet with an ominous guitar line, low rumbling drums, and haunting lap steel that reminds us all good times in life are inevitable accompanied by bad times. “So I close my eyes and I walk with you, but the trouble with time is you can take a wrong step, end up somewhere you tried to forget, a broken bone or a heart that’s bruised, sometimes I walk through the bad just to walk with you,“ they sing.
Upon moving to Nashville, Bradbury lived in his car before slowly moving on up to a sketchy duplex and finally a friends airstream trailer. Avoiding a 9 to 5 job and shunning creature comforts, Bradbury learned to turn a phrase that would catch an uninterested ear passing by and force attention. He packs these lines into verse after verse, song after song, to profound effect. The title track kicks off the record with insights that are at once mundane and illuminating, “If my dog could talk he would probably say, “Get off your ass, you’ve spent too much time on the couch today”, and if the cat could speak, you know she wouldn’t say a word, but it’s what’s left unsaid that always seems to hurt,” Bradbury sings over a jaunty guitar line and simple backbeat. In the face of criticism at his pets hands, Bradbury finds peace in the midst of confusion and uncertainty, “what if the weatherman said it’s gonna rain till it stops, it may rain a little, it may rain a lot, so you oughta do whatever you’re gonna do, and if it’s meant to be, all your silly dreams will come true.” “The American Life” follows suit with similarly powerful yet silly lines, “The American Life is French fries, flags, and hot dogs, decorative explosions on mutually agreed upon days, in the cold 4th quarter, the family flocks to the shopping mall, ‘cause in America, we buy our blues away.” Instrumentation takes a laid back folky approach throughout with melodies that are at once familiar and fresh; upon first listen you feel like you can hum along even though you’re unacquainted with the tune.
In addition to commentary of daily mundanity, Bradbury’s dreams – bad dreams – make an appearance as well on “This Too Shall Pass” and “Dallas 1963”. In the former after a particularly nightmarish dreamscape in that begins, “I had a dream last night that I lost all my teeth and I was falling down a bottomless well,” Bradbury tells himself, “don’t you pay no mind to what it means”. In the latter, however, after a dream in which Bradbury assumes the character of Lee Harvey Oswald just as JFK is assassinated, he awakes to find comfort in his companion’s reassurances and is encouraged to ponder the dream’s meaning, “And she said, “Wait a minute, baby, you know you’re not Lee Harvey Oswald? I know it seems real but it’s just a bad, bad dream, why don’t you go out and sit on the front porch, and I can make us some coffee, we can talk about what it means.”
Dark humor returns to the forefront on “So Many Ways to Die (Frozen Pizza)”. A simple acoustic ballad about dark thoughts. “You can climb to the highest cliff, take your shoes off and jump from it, park your car at the ocean at night, leave your shoes on and wait for high tide. He continues, “Sit around and wait for old age, or take a cue from Hemingway’s page, close all the window and make a frozen pizza, leave the oven door open, never eat the pizza.” There’s desperation and sadness in these lines, but there is humor as well.
“Hell’s More or Less the Same” brings more of the same over a groove that would be at home on an early Jimmy Buffet or Jerry Jeff Walker record. “So the cops they came in, they wouldn’t say for what, so we all just assumed what the other had done, then the picture cried out, I swear I’ve been framed, they left the nail in the wall, but hell’s more or less the same,” Bradbury shares this tale of a never ending party with world weary consolation in his voice.
Darrin Bradbury writes like he just hit his funny bone and he can’t decide if the tingling in his arm is refreshing or painful while his delivery teases the smiles from the listener one stanza at a time.
Bradbury handles vocal and acoustic guitar duties while Jeremy Ivey (bass, piano), Alex Muñoz (electric guitar, baritone electric guitar, lap steel, vocals), Dillon Napier (drums), and Kenneth Pattengale (mellotron, vocals) provide support
Talking Dogs and Atom Bombs is the record America needs now; put it on, put it on repeat, turn it up, and let it ease your uniquely American anxieties for a little while. https://darrinbradbury.com