Hearing Aide: Del Barber’s ‘Prairieography’
Del Barber is an extremely talented young songwriter, born and raised in the Canadian Prairies, a fact that quickly becomes evident in his lyrics. When giving his latest album Prairieography a first listen, the initial thought that came to mind was that this is your basic country album. But when delving deeper into the album, really hearing what the lyrics are saying, and researching information on the artist, it soon became clear that there is so much more to this album. The songs have a familiar resonance and structure, but there is a freshness to the sound. Following up on his three previous albums, Where the City Ends (2009), Love Songs for the Last 20 (2010), and Headwaters (2012), Prairieography paints a vivid picture of rural small town living.
The album is definitely not lacking in twangy pedal steel guitar, which is featured on every song, but the quality of the sound is unlike anything I had ever heard. That is because the reverb heard on the album was recorded inside a 150-foot grain silo! Produced by Barber and his loyal pedal steel player Bill Western, and recorded at Empire Recording in Winnipeg, “We had to disassemble the studio, scale the walls of the silo, hang microphones and a speaker,” Barber describes. “We amplified the instrument, like the pedal steel, into the silo and recorded again, then the track would have to be synched up with the song.” The effect obtained from this innovative recording technique was well worth the hard work and detail that most certainly had to be put in to achieve it. The accordion and mandolin also play important roles on this album (although they are a bit drowned out by the more dominant pedal steel). On “Peter and Jenny Lee”, the accordion comes in on the first waltz of the album, followed by “It’s Harder Than You Think”, which features real choppy licks on the mandolin, giving the song an almost reggae feel. On “Big Smoke”, if you listen carefully, you can make out audio sounds recorded from combines and augers, adding to the genuine country nature of this album.
Barber has a sweet pure voice, which at times is reminiscent of Jackie Greene, Chris Martin, and Jackson Browne. (For those of you who enjoy singing along with your CDs, Barber sings within a manageable range of notes for the average person to be able to accompany!) It is truly worth giving the lyrics a real hard listen. Although a bit dismal at times, with songs about the prices of grain going down (in fact, there is even a clip of a radio news show describing falling grain prices inserted in the middle of “Big Smoke”), and the necessity of having to either move into a big city to make a decent living, or sell out and get a job with the corporate oil company who has set up shop in town, Barber chose to end Prairieography on a somewhat more positive note with “White Lines and Taillights”, in which Barber creates beautiful harmonies during the chorus “I pray these wheels, they turn and never stop, till I make it home to you.” When listening to this album, you can’t help but get drawn in to the rural Canadian prairie landscape, feeling the struggles, as well as the joys, right along with Barber.
Del Barber has been quickly edging his way in to the U.S. Americana scene, having played several gigs throughout the mid-west in May, with some upcoming gigs in Texas in early June. The explosion of interest in this talented singer/songwriter was aided by an interview and video with Barber on CMTEdge.com on April 9, just prior to the release of Prairieography on April 15. If you are looking for a catchy yet deep country album with hints of Cajun boogie, folk, and even reggae, definitely give this one a listen.
Key Tracks: Living With A Long Way To Go, Walking In A Straight Line, Big Smoke