Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
West Coast musician/frontman/ex-heroin, cocaine and alcohol addict Bob Forrest is likely better recognized as a celebrity drug counselor working with Dr. Drew Pinsky in the Celebrity Rehab and Sober House TV shows than as a talented singer/songwriter. But Forrest, who once fronted post-punkers Thelonious Monster (where he dueted with Tom Waits on a track) and was also the subject of a full length documentary Bob and the Monster, has gradually, tentatively returned to music. He released a 2006 album and follows that nearly a decade later with the riveting and appropriately titled Survival Songs.
Featuring Forrest on unplugged acoustic rhythm guitar with assistance from ex-Circle Jerks guitarist Zander Schloss, the stripped down songs retell the harrowing days during and after his addiction, admitting in “Cereal Song” that he has teeth he can’t chew cereal with, and stating “I’m lucky I’m alive/ I should be dead.” It’s the ultimate “lost weekend” tale told in 13 songs sung with a scarred, scorched intensity that cuts to the emotional core. Occasional additional instrumentation ranging from a sad, lone trumpet in “Looking to the West” to stand-up bass, pedal steel and producer Ian Brennan’s “odds and ends” brings this devastatingly personal material to life.
There is an immediacy to the performances and Forrest’s quivering voice that make it clear he’s not only a survivor but is convinced things will improve, a concept he defines on the colorfully named “Lena Horne Still Sings ‘Stormy Weather.’” In the closing “Truth, Chaos and Beauty (Peace in the Valley”), he concludes with “kindness is everything and love is all there is,” perhaps sounding cliché on paper but sung with such naked conviction, it seems like a revelation.
Clearly this is not a set for the squeamish. But Bob Forrest tells his tales from firsthand experience and that raw, unadulterated, unfiltered honesty is what makes Survival Songs such a spellbinding, mesmerizing if slightly uncomfortable experience.