If Del Barber was born a few generations earlier, he would have been riding the rails. Part time employment would have kept him alive, but like so many of his influences and idols, traveling from town to town trading stories and chords with other folkies, and squeezing each and every drop from the fruit life provided would be what kept his heart beating.
More importantly, music fans would hear his songs and use his art as their windshield to new experiences.
Today we now live in an area where trips can be booked without leaving a desk and no place is too remote to be accessed easily or viewed completely. Wanderlust is a dying emotion now that we can “like” or “pin” any location to our profile without having to endure flights, boats and vaccines. Sadly, the unlimited potential at our fingertips is only trumped by the ever growing desire to dismiss adventure or expression of creativity.
That’s probably why a singer (and maybe the entire song writer genre) like Del, the 28-year-old son of a draft dodger and denizen of fate, can slip through the cracks.
Barber is a throwback, a storyteller that lets moments and emotions burn through his soul until they reach his fingertips and find a home with melody. There are endless numbers of songwriters trying to forget the past or simply steal from it, but Barber resides in the rarefied air (think Josh Ritter or Doug Paisley) of talent hoping only to fine tune proven recipes and results.
Barber’s previous work, especially the delightful Love Songs for the Last 20, showed potential that is fully realized on his effort (considering he was nominated for a Juno last time out, that is saying something).
Headwaters opens on a high note. “Love and Wine”, a duet with Catherine MacLellan, is a dark and sombre country tale delivered with beautiful harmonies, spare percussion and atmospheric steel work.
It’s a testament to his song writing and skill, but Barber uses a precise touch on every arrangement. Barber and his band pick up the pace early and often; “Can’t Turn Around” benefits from some heavier guitar and organs work, “Running On A Wire” is the most propulsive and the rich tones of “Queen of July” will make it a CBC staple for years (well, unless Harper simply replaces it with some Nickelback driven Sirius radio slot), but Barber also knows when less is more.
The albums biggest successes come when Del refuses to add any extra notes. The Summer ready, Prine worthy “Hen House Manifesto” is the obvious standout, but “Right Side Of The Wrong” is equally as powerful with its simple, pure story.
Headwaters isn’t written as a checkbox for your hashtag, online presence. The melodies and stories are for the living and deserve fresh air and tire raised gravel and sand. Barber wants you to hit the open road and explore, but he’s willing to settle for you seeing places through his eyes instead of your three inch screen.
Del is playing two NS shows – one with Matt Anderson in Antigonish and one with Old Man Luedecke in New Glasgow – that you would be well served to attend.