Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
'You can't escape your history; it's not something you can just opt out of."
This is the notion at the centre of Headwaters, the latest release from Canadian folk songsmith Del Barber. His third album in four years, Headwaters speaks to the shift from rural to urban life and the characters that shape a person's journey along the way. Love and loss, joy and sorrow are laid bare in each melody and each lyric, as Barber crafts narratives of desire, life and the influences on a person's direction—something that's impossible to run from, try as one may.
For Barber, telling these stories has all been part of his progression as a songwriter, from his early days of veiling a song's true meaning in complex and abstract lyrics to a shift towards honest, to-the-point renderings of his own voice and the voices of others.
"My first record's probably more poetic and vague and more reflective of an early 20s male, kind of afraid to be direct," he explains. "I'm moving more and more towards direct narratives and character-driven stories, and I think Headwaters reflects that. It's kind of a move away from ultimate ego-driven singer-songwriter kind of stuff and more focused on characters and writing on behalf of other people's voices rather than just my own."
Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike before starting to write, Barber put the pen to the page and honed his craft as much as possible, adding that while a lot of what comes from that may be drivel, every so often, something sticks. Through this practice and digging into his stories, Barber ended up recording rough cuts of more than 30 songs. He trusted the task of cutting this number down to the final 10 to producer Sam Kassirer, who he teamed up with at the recommendation of a member of John Prine's record label.
"John Prine is one of my songwriting heroes. He's kind of the epitome of the sacred and the profane and being comedic and also heartbreaking, and just being accessible—never really alienating stories on his records," says Barber, adding that working with Kassirer meant more was at stake, with numerous other musicians invested in the project, and the process of producing the record was a slower one, but it also meant resources were less limited than they had been on his previous two albums—produced independently with close friend Jean-Paul Laurendeau—and that the team could work until they were satisfied, rather than settling for what they had when precious time and resources ran out.
"It was a really freeing experience where I got to go into the studio every day and put myself in the hands of the really fantastic players and creative minds and weigh in from time to time, but really allow them to take the reigns on the songs ... every day was like complete bliss. I wish I could do it all the time."
Fri, Jan 25 (7:30 pm)
With Ben Sures
Arden Theatre, $30
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