“Last time David Baerwald released an album — and it was a good, long nine years ago — he went for the deliberately obscure and willfully difficult, from the title Triage on down to the deep, dark grooves of the music. Now, in 2002, he came back seemingly from nowhere with a record that announced its intent in its title: Here Comes the New Folk Underground” (Erlewine).
Of course, Baerwald had not disappeared for nine years; he’d just gone, ahem, underground. He spent most of the ‘90s contributing to soundtrack work and others’ albums. However, in 1999, he released A Fine Mess, a two-disc, 28-track album available only through DBinfosource.com. “A copy ended up on the desk of Luke Lewis, head of Lost Highway, who was intrigued enough to sign Baerwald to the fledgling label late in 2001. A Fine Mess was then winnowed down to a single disc, two tracks recorded in Austin completing the CD. Local hero Will Sexton, a songwriting friend of Baerwald’s from the early Nineties, is given co-production credit on the disc” (Caligiuri).
“‘The thing I’ve always responded to about David,’ relates Sexton, ‘is how loyal he is to his point of view. I think it lets him make brutally honest, unremitting music, because it’s so clearly his point of view and it's pretty stout’” (Caligiuri).
“Sexton pauses a moment and then adds with a laugh, ‘I love him for it, ya know?’” (Caligiuri).
The album’s “title is deceptive. Although he’s a singer-songwriter, it’s folk music in the most literal sense: by and for ‘folks.’ Some of the songs possess a rustic tone; others are slinky blue-eyed soul. All of them hang together with a purpose, exposing a dark period in Baerwald’s life that ultimately led to a stance that’s both defiant and life affirming. It’s an album with the rare combination of passion, grit, funk, country-rock, and truth. It’s music to move you, no matter what it's called” (Caligiuri).
“Baerwald expands on those sentiments” (Caligiuri). “‘I have no folk credibility. It’s an attack on artifice and dishonesty on a musical level. I spent a long time trying to make something out of nothing’” (Caligiuri).
“Baerwald claimed in the press release accompanying his album that he thought there was no place for his kind of songwriting until Lost Highway came along. And that very well may be true — though he certainly wasn’t a stranger to slick productions in the past (both David & David's Boomtown and his solo debut were state-of-the-art productions), he wrote songs more reminiscent of short stories than radio-ready ditties, and his music was firmly entrenched in classic singer/songwriter tradition, hardly a welcome sound in the post-grunge '90s” (Erlewine).
“So, he sat it out, eventually coming back once the alt-country movement made it OK for him to resurface, but…as this understated but gloriously realized comeback illustrates, he's both too literary and too musical to be grouped with the humorless, doggedly serious traditionalists that have laid claim to roots music and singer/songwriter tradition through passive-aggressive maneuvers. With a sly, deft hand, Baerwald reveals the folly of treating songwriting as a gravely serious matter, turning out a record that is warm and musically supple, filled with words that are as effective at relating pathos as turning a joke” (Erlewine).
“This doesn’t reveal anything new, but it’s much more accessible than Triage, more resonant than Bedtime Stories, and as consistent, in content and theme, as Boomtown” (Erlewine).
“This doesn't mean it’s a masterpiece, since he still falls into some of his pitfalls — pretension gets the better of him a few times, whether it’s in the deliberately sub-Bukowski, Randy Newman-meets-Tom Waits If (A Boy Whore in a Man’s Jail) or the ‘slip-slide’ motif on The Crash — but these become endearing with repeated listens” (Erlewine).
“The fact is, very few contemporary songwriters wind up with albums as musically and emotionally satisfying as this” (Erlewine). “Underground sold next to nothing, and Baerwald seems to have used its failure as a cue to turn his back on pop music, at least for now…and his return to traditional album releases is up in the air ” (jefitoblog.com). However, “let’s hope it doesn’t take a decade for Baerwald to release another record” (Erlewine).