Survival Songs

Bob Forrest

Six Degrees Records, 2015

REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen


Although Pete Crigler covered this album in fine detail two years ago, after just now listening to it, I felt compelled to toss in my two cents. And beyond that, since I've got a decade on Pete and probably came from an entirely different musical upbringing, I figured I could offer a different insight about Survival Sickness.

For the uninitiated, Forrest was the frontman for Thelonious Monster And The Bicycle Club. He's also been on the tube as the drug counselor on shows like Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 and there's even a documentary about this troubled past. More recently, he's become an author, too, in his memoir about battling addiction against heroin, alcohol, and cocaine.

If there's one thing that Forrest excels at, it's getting to the point. While plenty of others in his place choose metaphors and vague wordplay, songs like the acoustic opener “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” can be taken at face value; Forrest has been close to death and many of his friends have already passed, which is described here on a sparse strummer. “Song Of The Songs” follows and is similarly sparse, though it's a duet that's simple yet effective with its fantastic vocal harmonies.

Often times, the lyrical content here is hard to digest. On “Cereal” he talks of how his flawed teeth can't chew his favorite cereal and he's washing dishes at age 35. On “Sammy Hagar Weekend” Forrest seems to reflect on his drug days, listening to Hagar and snorting cocaine, and “Body & Soul” paints a portrait of stark loneliness, nearly pleading for help. While we all know that addiction can bring you to an ugly place, it's quite clear Forrest knows these depths well.

Musically, this disc primarily contains acoustic guitar and Forrest's vocals, though songs like the reflective “Looking To The West” come with gentle horns, and in other places there's sweet female vocals to complement Forrest's weary pipes. On many songs, especially toward the end, it almost seems like Forrest is executing improvisation. This is especially true on the straightforward storytelling of “Off-Street Parking” and “Lena Horne Still Sings 'Stormy Weather',” which come off as campfire songs he made up as he went.

Survival Songs is right. This guy has journeyed to hell and back, and he's got tales to tell. They aren't always easy to take in, and musically it's nothing groundbreaking, but there's a message in here that's dire and will always require reiteration.

Rating: B

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