Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reviews:: Matthew Barber True Believer

It's not surprising that Matthew Barber's upcoming release - True Believer - is flying under the radar of most of the sites I read and most of the music loving public in general. Barber is easy to classify - essentially he's a rock solid song writer that could charm you with just an acoustic or a piano - but the surprising range he presents when he writes songs makes it almost to lock into a sound or style. His understated arrangements consistently display his talent, but really don't translate into press quotes and hyperbole. He can't be put in a box with a generic, "he sounds like X + Y and a little Z" and sadly, that leaves this incredibly talented musician in a bit of a critical purgatory.

Descriptors like effortless, timeless, and classic are easy to throw around but really don't equate to anything you can hold onto. At the end of the day - to bastardize a Miles Davis quote - music either makes you smile and tap your foot or it doesn't. It would be easy if saying that Barber's songs make you move was enough, but the undeniable shift in how we gauge song writers makes that almost impossible. Barber's influences are people that wrote songs for the masses, unashamed that their strums made people happy, dominated the radio and could be enjoyed by anyone that listened, so why should we not extend the same courtesy to song writers in the current age?

I guess in an ironic twist, Barber puts out record after record of songs that fit all of those qualifiers but you rarely hear his name mentioned among our nation's best. To be honest though, I think Barber is ok with that and if pushed, he might say that he'd rather his songs be compared to his predecessors instead of his peers. So when he and producer Howie Beck sat down to record True Believer and Barber says that he was influenced by Neil Young, Tom Petty, Al Green, The Boss and The Band, I think those names are listed as a sign of respect and a potential measuring stick but not a blueprint for his sound. Barber doesn't want to sound like them, he simply wants his catalog to stand alongside theirs. Even when he adds some summery Paul Simon-esque guitar and percussion, the song is still built on Barber's musical foundation.

That small but significant difference is why the stripped down melodies he offers on True Believer are so infectious. Instead of forcing comparisons, you simply settle into the record knowing Barber's sound is his own. With only some perfect harmonies and a picked guitar line, Barber captivates the listener on The Little Things. Even when he beefs up the sound, layers are added for impact, not novelty. The booming horns and strings that get you nodding on the title track or the banjo and finger snaps that catch your ear on Comeback Baby never detract from the guitar and vocals, they just complete the sound. The gentle swell of horns on Revolution of the Sun don't overwhelm you, they force you to focus on his words and feel his emotion.

The ten songs on True Believer show the trademark flexibility of his voice - it's hard to imagine another contemporary artist that can deliver a perfect road trip anthem (Hawks on the Highway) and still sound completely comfortable on the most spare arrangements (Suddenly) or sharing the vocals with his talented sister (@JillBarber) - and should help cement his status as one of Canada's greats. I guess it all depends if people are ready to say sounding like Matt Barber instead of the slew of artists on which we gauge every song writer is finally good enough or not. Hopefully you are, because I certainly am.

MP3:: Matthew Barber - Revolution of the Sun
MYSPACE:: http://www.myspace.com/mbarber
BUY:: outside-music.com

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Posted at 7:19 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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