Published May 23, 2014It's something of a mystery that Toronto troubadour Matthew Barber hasn't had a bigger impact. A handsome lad, he has put out consistently strong albums at a regular rate and is a charming performer. Warner Music Canada saw potential, releasing two albums from him a decade ago, while Big Romance is his fifth album for Outside Music. Perhaps having the name of Americana hero Gary Louris (the Jayhawks) attached as producer will attract a little more (much deserved) attention this time around.
Barber does his part by writing another appealing collection of songs and delivering them in a convincing fashion. Ace accompanists include Louris, sister Jill, James McKenty (who recorded and mixed), Burke Carroll, Michelle McAdorey (Crash Vegas) and the tight rhythm section of Julian Brown and Dean Stone (Apostle of Hustle). The album begins in familiar fashion with "Hold Me," a poignant piano ballad that showcases his mellow and honeyed voice, followed by the sweet "Magnet Eyes" (the first single) and the melodic mid-tempo title track. So far so pleasant, but things really start to soar from there, beginning with "On The 505," a hard-hitting look at the police killing of Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar. Barber deserves credit for tackling a controversial topic head-on with real compassion, and incisive lines like "blood on the tracks tonight."
There's a similarly pleasing intensity to the slow-burning "Magic Greg" (an elegy for a departed friend), gorgeous ballad "If Our Timing Is True," featuring harmonies from McAdorey and "Dance Of The Honey Bee," which has a compelling dynamic range. Eight albums in, this stands as Barber's finest yet. (Outside)