Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Del Barber’s latest album a plainspoken ode to Prairies, people who live here

  • Print
Del Barber is not an autobiographical songwriter.

MARK MARYANOVICH Enlarge Image

Del Barber is not an autobiographical songwriter.

DEL Barber is a Prairie boy at heart.

The evidence is all his fourth full-length album, Prairieography — out today via True North Records — the Junonominated Winnipeg country/ roots troubadour paints vivid pictures of small towns and the hard-working people who populate them. His portraits aren’t rendered in misty, pastel-hued watercolours; they’re rougher, grittier. Barber lets the brush strokes show.

The 30-year-old was inspired by another document of life on the Prairies:

Cowboyography, the 1987 album by venerated Canadian singer/songwriter Ian Tyson. He rediscovered the album on a drive through southern Alberta.

"I was so impressed with how he was able to connect me with that place directly," he says. "I realized that what I was trying to do."

It’s something Barber did with success on Prairieography’s predecessor, 2012’s Headwaters. As its title suggests, that record was all about returning to the source, about going home again.

Prairieography is mostly about the people who never left — in particular, those whose lives exist somewhere between urban and rural.

"It’s a subject I want to continue to write about until I’ve exhausted it," he says. "There are so many great stories about characters who live in both worlds."

Barber is not an autobiographical songwriter. He prefers instead to tell the stories he’s picked up along his travels. Some are seemingly plucked from the headlines; lead track Living with a Long Way to Go details the day-to-day struggles of a farmer who decides to work on the oilpatch in order to save his family business: "Heading out to Fort Mac/Gonna make a comeback/make a million dollars pulling oil from the ground."

The song feels especially topical in light of Neil Young’s Honor the Treaties tour last month. Barber is a big fan of Young’s — he sings a cover of Harvest Moon — but he feels the issue is complex, especially for folks who need to make choices like the protagonist in his song.

"I think the way Neil Young spoke about this issue alienated people instead of bringing them together," he says. "The stories are all more complicated than we think they are. We’re all dirty."

Prairieography marks a departure for the singer/songwriter, skewing more country than the albums before it — a stylistic shift Barber attributes to his songwriting style.

"(The lyrics) seem more direct and precise," he says. "They’re not ultra-poetic, which is why it sounds more country. I’m not trying to be a part of high art or something oblique."

That’s part of the reason he loves playing for rural audiences, which major tour circuits often neglect.

"They keep me honest," he says. "They don’t have a lot of patience for obliqueness. The more direct the narratives are, the more sincere they come off. It’s easier to perform songs that are easier to understand. It’s a tradition of folk and country music that gets lost."

Barber’s plainspokenness is complemented by warm, textural soundscapes that were recorded live to analogue tape at Empire Recording. Field sounds of grain augers and combines made it on to the finished product, which was co-produced by Barber and his steel player Bill Western. A silo was painstakingly transformed into a reverb tank.

"We didn’t want it to sound too manufactured," Barber says. "We thought, ‘How do we make these songs sound like the landscape?’ Winnipeg, the Canadian Prairies and the western States — there’s a lot of grit to them."

The fact that Prairieography was made entirely by prairie people also gives it a homespun vibe.

"It felt like making a record with friends," he says. "It sounds like the Prairies."

 

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2014 D1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Cheap summer weekends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY
  • Hay bales sit under a rainbow just west of Winnipeg Saturday, September 3, 2011.(John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will higher pork prices change your grocery-shopping habits?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google