As a recent sideman for the Supersuckers and session player for Gerald Collier’s Low Tar Taste, Clay Bartlett has paid a few dues in the Northwest alt-country scene. Partly because of this, Fixin’ To Break Down is bubbling with urgency and doused with the knowledge of an artist who has done his songwriting homework.
Plenty of Townes Van Zandt can be heard in Bartlett’s world-weary groan and in his metronome-like flatpicking. The intro to “Shoulder Of Fools” echoes Townes’ “Dollar Bill Blues”, and the minor-key reflection of “Clay’s Blues” is akin to “Waitin’ Round To Die”. With dashes of resonator and lap steel from Allen Terhune, the record even bears a resemblance to the graveyard despair of early classics like Our Mother The Mountain.
The songs carry a predominantly poetic weight. “I wrote you a thirty-six page poem and I rhymed every line/With just a bottle of pills and handful of wine,” Bartlett sings on “Shoulder Of Fools” in timeless tortured-artist style. “Airstream” calls to mind the great country road songs of the 1970s; “Bury Me” is a slice of dark humor that counters the record’s otherwise meditative mood.
Also notable is the percussion work of Kevin Warner, on loan from Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter. Here, he applies the same breezy brush-drum feel which suits that band’s contemplative groove and helps guide the record through the back roads of Bartlett’s mind.