Prairieography (True North, 2014)
Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln
The first few tracks of Barber's fourth release lead you to believe that it's going to be a passel of swinging, but wistful tunes. "Living With a Long Way to Go", the opener, laments living in a "half-horse town", where life's a sucker's card game. Other musical sighs follow suit. Now the zydeco, Dobro, and steel-guitar flavored hooks register often, keeping things singalong-ready (e.g., "Walking in a Straight Line"). But the prospects of the subjects are slim. Then Barber, like a master pitcher, switches things around with some terrific change-ups. First, he's over the moon walking down the street with a "Country Girl." And the album reaches an apex, in the simple but sharply-drawn characters of "Peter and Jenny Lee" If you remember John Prine's "Donald and Lydia," and how they just couldn't make it...well, you'll be cheering how these two do, if only for the time we visit with them.
Musically and geographically, we're a long way from Springsteen's "Nebraska." But the landscape and the empty wallet in the characters match spot-on. Barber's world view often won't settle for one perspective - in "The Wind in the Wire," it's supposed to be a take on a prisoner's life behind bars. But the loved ones waiting behind are in their cells too. And when Barber's characters have their small, sweet moments of joy, we are reminded of important lessons learned long ago about what makes a life rich - lessons well worth remembering.
CDs by Del Barber
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