To make a long story short…
Matthew Barber is a singer-songwriter from Toronto who has released 7 albums over the past decade and toured extensively across Canada with inroads into Europe, the US and Australia. Equally at home as a solo performer or with a band, Barber’s music is inspired largely by the great songwriters of the 20th century North American folk/blues/rock’n’roll and country tradition. After releasing his first album on the independent label Paper Bag Records in 2003, Barber signed with Warner Music Canada and subsequently released two albums on the label – the e.p. The Story of Your Life (2004) and Sweet Nothing (2005). After both sides decided to part ways amicably, Barber landed at the independent label Outside Music – a label for which he used to work in the warehouse. Since then he has released 4 critically acclaimed full-length albums –Ghost Notes (2008, nominated for a Juno award), True Believer (2010), a self-titled home-recorded album Matthew Barber (2011, nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award) and Songs For The Haunted Hillbilly which features 12 songs written for a theatrical production based on a book by Derek McCormack and produced by Montreal’s Sidemart Theatrical Grocery. Barber won a Montreal English Theatre Critics award (MECCA) for his music in the show and the show itself won the MECCA for Best Production in 2010.
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About Songs For The Haunted Hillbilly 2012
The latest offering from Toronto singer-songwriter Matthew Barber is a collection of twelve original songs that were written for a musical play entitled Haunted Hillbilly. Inspired by the cult novel by Derek McCormack about a Hank Williams-esque country singer and his mysterious manager and tailor Nudie, the theatrical adaptation (written by Graham Cuthbertson) debuted in 2009 in Montreal to rave reviews and has received multiple Montreal Theatre Critic’s awards (MECCAs) including “Best Production” and “Best Sound,” as well as being a hit at Toronto’s Summerworks Theatre Festival.
Songs For The Haunted Hillbilly brings all the numbers from the darkly comedic show together on record for the first time, sung by Barber and backed by multi-instrumentalists Joe Grass and Julian Brown who also make up the live band. In addition to the core musicians, there are some notable guest vocalists including Julie Fader, Doug Paisley, Justin Rutledge and Oh Susanna. The result is a rollicking trip through the back alleys of Nashville circa 1950 complete with cautionary tales about booze, religion (lost and found), love, lust, betrayal, fame and fashion. In the stage show, the songs weave in and out of the dialogue and are sung by the actors who play the various characters which include the hero Hyram Woodside, his rival country star Erskine Mole, the villain Nudie, Hyram’s wife Audrey and his girlfriend Bobbi. The album simply presents the songs all sung by the songwriter and thus plays out like a country concept album with recurring characters and a unifying narrative.
Produced by Barber (with help from Grass and Brown) and recorded by Ken Friesen (who recorded Barber’s Juno-nominated Ghost Notes as well as records by The Sadies, Hawksley Workman and many more) the songs were captured live-off-the-floor to tape in Almonte, Ontario as a 3-piece band with all the lead vocals sung live. Minimal additional instrumentation (including fiddle by James McKie) and guest vocals were added in a later session in Toronto. Barber and Friesen mixed the record in Almonte, and it was mastered in L.A. by Gavin Lurssen (hand-picked for his work with T-Bone Burnett). His seventh album to date, Songs For The Haunted Hillbilly can rightfully be considered Barber’s first country record (signified most clearly by Joe Grass’s soaring pedal steel). But the country here is more akin to Gram Parsons or Dylan’s Nashville Skyline than what would conventionally be considered country music today. Barber’s voice never gets too twangy, and the production embraces an honest love of old-time country music without trying too hard to replicate a specific sound. The album may have been made on the banks of Ontario’s Mississippi river (truth), but Barber is not trying to fool anyone into thinking he’s from the deep south. Songs For The Haunted Hillbilly will go down as a refreshingly unique collection of music written and performed in style that departs from Barber’s trademark introspective voice, giving a captivating cast of characters a vivid life beyond the page and the stage.
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About Matthew Barber 2011
The latest offering from Toronto-based singer-songwriter Matthew Barber is a self-titled and self-produced collection of songs that marks a winter’s worth of work in his ramshackle basement home studio. By playing all the instruments as well as handling the recording and mixing duties, Barber has made somewhat of a return to his roots on this, his sixth release. “It’s the first time I’ve made a record by myself at home since the record before my first official record, if that makes sense, “ jokes Barber.
Over a decade has passed between the early 4-track experiments as a philosophy student at Queen’s University and his latest eponymous effort (available now on the Outside Music label). In the meantime, Barber has become a seasoned songwriter and performer with five albums, numerous tours across Canada and around the world, a handful of record deals, a Juno nomination and an award-winning musical to his credit. “I’d like to think my recording chops have improved a bit since then,” adds Barber, “and I’ve collected a few more odds and ends to play with in the studio.”
However these odds and ends may have been deployed, the result is a disarmingly honest record of charming simplicity. Melodic instrumental hooks weave in and out of the tastefully spare arrangements, providing an engaging musical setting for Barber’s signature vocals and neatly-packaged lyrical turns about love, lust, longing, disillusionment, injustice, hope and the modern experience.
Barber’s passion for the throwback sounds of the late 60’s and early 70’s is again clearly evident on this record, which was captured entirely on an analog 8-track machine. “ I read Keith Richards’ autobiography as I was beginning the recording process and I was excited by his statement that 8-track was his preferred format for recording,” says Barber. “It forces you to make choices as you go along and keep the arrangements lean, which suited the sort of record I wanted to make. I also got an iPhone around that time and the only album I had on it for months was Beggar’s Banquet, which became a reference point sonically.”
Astute listeners will surely notice nods to 20th century masters like The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan, The Band and Paul Simon – but the voice at the heart of each song – both as songwriter and singer – is singularly Matthew Barber. “The heart of the record is about being in a long-term relationship, trying to make sense of all that goes along with your life becoming more deeply entwined with that of another person and how that influences both your outlook on the world and your understanding of yourself.”