Matthew Barber | Ghost Notes
Most Likely To: appreciate artists who don’t use Auto-Tune.
3:00 AM, my cell phone is ringing. “Amigo,” the French-tinged voice says, “did you get the files I emailed you?” The voice belongs to Jean Pierre, a Canadian contact I’ve shared some international episodes with. “No, but I haven’t checked my email…”
“Just look into it,” he adds, followed by a rude click. Now I am up the rest of the night, wondering two things. One, why my French-Canadian contact calls me “amigo,”and two, what a fucking pet peeve it is to have someone call me and ask if I got their email. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Anyway, I will be up all night now, so I find his files marked Matthew Barber.
The profile reads like this: Barber hails from the Great White North, where he has experienced most of his popular and critical success. In 2003, an indie debut paved the way for his major label debut. ’04 and ’05 saw major label releases. 2008 marked his return to the indies with Ghost Notes. Since America is fundamentally backwards, we didn’t get a stateside release until this April. In the meantime, Ghost Notes picked up a Juno nod (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy for best roots/traditional), which pretty much ensures no one in southern North America will ever hear it. It’s artists like this that keep reviewers like this one happy, and Jean Pierre calling me at 3:00 in the goddamn morning.
Ghost Notes wavers between the rootsy and the melancholy, the light and the dark, of which “Where The River Bends” is a perfect example. On the surface, you would expect such a song to be all sunshine and roses. Yet, as the songs piano chords unfold, you discover where the river bends is actually that dark place we all have. “The water’s not as blue, and the grass, well it ain’t that green,” he sings, and that’s good enough for me to stay away. This is one of the few songs where he has female backing vocals, and it turns up the creepy meter. “And You Give” grooves in a chugging melody. Fellow insomniacs will find comfort in the folksy “Sleep Please Come To Me” (especially when asshole friends call at three o’clock).
As much as the music sways from middle-country bar rock to neo gospel, the lyrics rise and fall as well. Overall, Barber can develop a story nicely, noting the progression in hours (“Sleep”) or holidays (in “Somebody Sometime”). He has a tendency to get bogged down in hackneyed lyrics (e.g. “You got to live to die”) and uses more allusions in “You And Me” than you get in most Family Guy marathons. In other songs, he tends to return to the chorus almost like it’s a crutch. And if I ever had a buddy who wrote such a piece of spineless tripe like “Modern Woman,” I would seriously beat the ever-loving shit out of him to an inch of his miserable life. “Modern Woman” makes that pussy James Blunt look like fucking Mastodon. That being said, I am sure many Canadian hipsters will be using it for their wedding. Whatever, your funeral.
Barber fits nicely in to his niche. with organic, simple instrumentation centering on guitar, piano, and percussion. He can keep it mellow for the slower tunes, yet really deliver on the rocking numbers like the stand out “One Little Piece of My Love.” The self-produced Notes sits well with the current crop of singer/songwriters, and avoids the twang that might turn some feebler minded people (you know who you are) off. The shortcomings are easily forgiven in sight of the whole effort.