It’s not easy to transition from standard songwriting to songs for written for the stage, but if anyone not named Wainright is equipped to handle the challenge, it would be Matthew Barber. A seasoned professional, Barber fine tunes his craft each and every time he hits record, considering his complete body of work instead of just hunting for a single.

He pours himself into each project, inspiration and influence and although his pristine voice and concise melodies might not be your first thought when you think of songs crafted to help drive the story of a Hank Williams inspired character and his flamboyant manager, his appreciation of the project and dedication to a sound make him a logical choice.

The 12-songs are surprisingly accessible for both fans of the theatre as well as traditional country swayers and foot stompers. Barber balanced the need for larger than life, upbeat sing-alongs with melodies that deserve multiple listens and he and the band worked hard to make Songs for the Haunted Hillbilly more that just a collection of songs that felt like forcing Andrew Lloyd Webber into a dusty, cowboy shirt.

Songs like “This Cautionary Tale” and “Good Lord’s Willin’” are natural progressions from Barber previous work, but this isn’t the same Barber we’ve heard on his last releases. Without question, Barber’s voice is unmistakable but the sonic exploration is new.

The rework of “Got That Lonesome Feeling on My Mind” (a song that most fans will know from it’s place on True Believer) is the easiest example of the change in sound Barber offers this time out, but the band consistently supports his vocals with tasteful pedal steel, mandolin and backing vocals from some of the purest voices in Toronto (Doug Paisley, Jule Fader, Oh Susanna and Justin Rutledge are just a few of the names that helped Barber realize his vision). Barber also wisely shows off his sense of humor as freely his sense of melody and heartache, and while that makes for great theatre, it also helps the record grow. Songs like “Father and Son” and “The Clap” could have been pulled from Ween’s classic Twelve Golden Greats, and even at a brief 1:03, “E-R-K-S-I-N-E” is a frantic, backwoods gem.

Songs for the Haunted Hillbilly may be a musical accompaniment, but the songs deserve a spot in Barber’s catalog and on your shelf.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3:: Matthew Barber - Father And Son