Ask local singer-songwriter Del Barber what’s missing in music nowadays and he’ll tell you it’s the cohesive narratives that once formed the bedrock of celebrated songwriting.
“The thing that’s really hard to find right now is good stories on records,” the 26-year old said in mid-May over coffee at The Fyxx on Broadway.
“The indie music that I don’t understand, but that’s really influenced me, is all about abstracted lines and very poetic. It seems like everyone is afraid to say something very specific. The genre is very unsure of itself and doesn’t really know what it wants to say. It can say whatever it wants.”
If there is one thing to be said about the St. Norbert native, it’s that he doesn’t shy away from specific, local songwriting – at least not on his forthcoming album, Love Songs for the Last 20.
Recorded in the span of four weeks with co-producer Jean Paul Laurendeau at Broken Ground Productions, Barber’s sophomore effort will be released on June 18th at the West End Cultural Centre.
With one foot planted deeply in the country music tradition and the other dabbling in folk waters, the album is a confident and strident collection of prairie-bred Canadiana songs that deal with equal parts heartache, rootedness and the importance of place.
“Country music is supposed to be something that everyone can understand, it’s supposed to be universal in some way,” Barber said. “But good country music is also supposed to be willing to say something that’s local. It’s all about trying to be sincere. It’s not an easy thing to do, to be honest when you write.”
Barber’s folky 2009 debut Where the City Ends carried echoes of a desolate prairie boy finding his place in the world.
But on Love Songs for the Last 20, a more mature Barber has found his way home, embracing his history and showcasing his knack for quick-witted lyricism through artful storytelling.
On the standout track Chicago, a pedal steel guitar swells up and gently weeps as a lovelorn Barber breaks up with the mid-western metropolis he once called home.
Similarly, the aching tune Thunder Bay sees the songwriter’s inability to commit to – and love – any other place but home.
“ Good country music is supposed to be willing to say something that’s local. It’s all about trying to be sincere. It’s not an easy thing to do, to be honest when you write.
Del Barber, musician
But the hardships only serve to underpin the common thread that unravels through the whole album: the need for familiarity and the return back home from someone taking stock of their roots.
“Our relationship with place is exactly like our relationship with a person, but somehow we don’t treat it that way. It’s a two way street – when you move to a town not only do you start loving that town, but it starts loving you back and teaching you stuff,” Barber said.
“Leaving a place you’ve committed to is exactly like a breakup to me.”
Following years of releasing DIY recordings, being on the road and working towards a degree in philosophy, Barber is now stepping into the role of a full-time musician.
And he’s ambitious, too: he plans to release four albums in four years.
“I want to have a body of work and I want to have specific statements,” he said. “Putting out more music just means my head is down and I’m working, and I want to share that with my community. It’s their fruit and it’s their songs.”
For now, Barber plans to tour the new album extensively following a Winnipeg Folk Festival performance. He’s quick to point out his plans to return home to St. Norbert to record the third album.
“I want to be specifically from somewhere,” he said. “And you have to be if you want to be writing country songs.”
-Del Barber releases Love Songs at the West End Cultural Centre on Friday, June 18
-Chris Carmichael, Jessee Havey and Rob Waddell will also perform
-Advance tickets are available at Music Trader, Into the Music and the Winnipeg Folk Festival Music Store
-You can also see Barber live on Sunday, June 6 at the Back 40 Festival in Morden, Man.; and Wednesday, July 7 to Sunday, July 11 at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.