Published Jan 31, 2014A rootsy singer/songwriter from the West could sure do worse than turn to Ian Tyson's landmark record Cowboyography for inspiration. Highly-touted Winnipeg songsmith Barber did just that for his fourth album, and the results will surely bring a smile to Tyson's grizzled visage. Prairieography explores the places and people of the West with poetic skill, and Barber's easy-on-the-ear voice does them justice.
The opening song, "Living With A Long Way to Go," tells of a beat-down farmer eyeing oil sands dollars, while other tunes depict a drug-running trucker ("Yellowhead Road") and lovers working at a cheap motel ("Peter and Jenny Lee"). The album was co-produced with aptly-named pedal steel player Bill Western, and the use of analogue tape pays off in the warm sonics. An average of seven or more players and harmony vocalists appear on each track, resulting in a very full sound, though a more minimal setting for a song or two would have added variety.
Befitting the subject matter, the style is more down home country than Barber's earlier folk-inflected efforts, with the upbeat "Country Girl" bringing Corb Lund to mind. A real album highlight is "Big Smoke," which sports a gorgeous melody and a sombre feel, with a spoken word sample from a CBC news item on farming incorporated cleverly. It's a very solid effort. (True North)