April 27, 2009

Album Review: Ghost Notes

Matthew Barber is a new artist to me, but with his latest album, Ghost Notes (released April 14th on Outside Music records), his fourth album. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Ghost Notes is filled with influences from rock to folk and country-rock, an album that feels very laid back, easy going and perfect for this current change in weather that we're experiencing here in Vermont.

There's a lot about this album that I should like - there's a decent sound, and any number of the tracks here that I can see ending up on the television show Grey's Anatomy or House MD. Matthew sings with a confident style, and there's a bit of variety between the songs, a good blend of faster and slower songs, which works nicely for a singer-songwriter album.

The strongest point of the album isn't the sound, but the lyrics. Coupled with the sound, Ghost Notes contains a number of songs that have been stuck in my head with their lyrics. In good folk/country-rock tradition, each song tells a story, which gives Ghost Notes a bit more depth than some of the other albums that have come across my desk in the past couple of years, and it's a very nice thing to listen to. Oftentimes, this album has reminded me of one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Gordon Lightfoot. Coupled with the stripped-down acoustic sound and fairly good lyrics, this album is certainly a good one to listen to.

While listening to the record, I find myself enjoying it, but there's something missing from it, and it's given me the impression that it's far from a stellar album. All of the right elements are there - we have a promising singer-songwriter with a fantastic voice, we have songs that sound very good, and a couple of tent-pole songs such as 'Easily Bruised' and 'I'm Gonna Settle My Accounts With You' and a variety of influences and additional singers. What doesn't thrill me about this album is that there's no surprises, and essentially, while it's a new singer, there's nothing that I haven't heard before with other singer-songwriters.

That all being said, I like this album, I really do. It feels like a comfortable pair of jeans that I've had to replace, and found something that's similar, but without the crazy pockets that makes it wholly unique. In an overall sense, this is a cardinal sin with music, because the worst songs are the ones that are uninteresting and send me up the dial or down the playlist searching for something more exciting, but it's not a universal rule. Barber has crafted a fun, easygoing album that simply blends into the mass variety of music that's out there, thanks to idiot with some webskills and the ability to use myspace. Once you've caught sight and sound of his music, you can't help but notice, but it's the picking him out in the first place. Fortunately, the lead single form the album, Easily Bruised, is one of the more distinctive songs from the ten tracks. However, while it's certainly worth picking up for its lyrics, this isn't necessarily an album that I'm going to listen to over and over, building charished memories of my graduate school years, but it will certainly pop up on my playlists as I finish out my graduate school years.

Barber will be touring the US for a short set of shows in the US, and if he was in my area, I'd check him out:

May 12 2009 11:00P The Living Room New York, New York
May 13 2009 8:00P Union Hall Brooklyn, New York
May 14 2009 9:00P The Milltown Carrboro, North Carolina
May 15 2009 8:00P TBA Athens, Georgia

Easily Bruised - Matthew Barber