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Lou Barlow’s Reason To Live: Fresh Modern Campfire Songs For 2021

Mark Smotroff suddenly wants to make some s’mores…

It finally hit me about what I find so endearing with Lou Barlow’s acoustic-based solo albums: they are like having a friend play you a song late one night around a campfire in the woods while passing around a communal guitar.  It is a very personal listening experience.

Barlow tends to rely on a distinctive strumming guitar pulse he’s mastered to build up his incredibly melodic songs. These tracks all tend to showcase his rich voice and gift for crafting wistful, thoughtful timely topical tunes.  

Indeed, his recordings are a sort of alternative rock twist on campfire songs. However,  these days Lou is singing about his current life with his family as well as all that is going on around us in these strange modern pandemic times.  This album was written and recorded between Spring 2019 through Fall 2020. 

Reason To Live features 17 new songs that were all crafted at home.  As with all Lou Barlow albums, by the second and third spin your humming along to his infectious hooks.

As with Springsteen’s best acoustic work, many of the songs here on Reason To Live (and many other of Lou’s solo albums for that matter) could easily be blown up into full fledge rockers with his band Sebadoh or The Folk Implosion.

So far, my favorite songs on this album include “Why Can’t It Wait” (with its beautiful acoustic guitar signatures) and the resonant “I Don’t Like Changes.”  “All You People Suck” is a powerful and quietly angry song about selfish blind followers who “don’t believe that we’re all connected.”

“Lows and Highs” features a haunting, somewhat Robert Wyatt-esque vibe, possibly about domestic violence. Some heavy truths reside inside this song: “We give our lives away, Love is why they say, We are so isolated.”  

You can find Reason To Live streaming in CD quality (16-bit, 44.1 kHz) on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here) and both sound real good. I especially enjoyed using the offline streaming function of those services to pre-load the album into the apps on my phone for listening in the car. 

The standard weight light blue vinyl version of Reason To Live  — issued by Joyful Noise Records — is happily very quiet and well centered so there are no problems on that front. 

Do go into this knowing, however, that Lou recorded this material in his home so you should not go into this expecting an Abbey Road-level production. Yet, it is in no way a “Lo Fi” listening experience — actually, there are often lovely layers of chiming acoustic and sparkling electric guitars. His richly recorded vocals are icing on the cake for this ultimately very tasty recording. There is even a Mellotron-like texture on one of the songs!

You can find Reason To Live on Amazon as well as from the Joyful Noise website (click here) which also has the cassette and CD versions. Get it. And also check out his past releases. I have reviewed the fine first time vinyl edition of his great album EMOH (click here) and his last album, Brace The Wave (click here).

Modern campfire songs with heart and soul… Tasty tunes and flavorful new favorites… In this day and age what else can you ask for when one of your favorite artists gives you good heart food? 

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