Back towards the closing notes of high school, my best friend and I would take drives in his colossal Oldsmobile. We’d just drive and drive, off in the middle of nowhere with nothing but trees and night sky and the smell of warm summer evening around us. No cell phones, either.
Our best piece of technology at the time was a little cassette tape adapter that let us hook a portable CD player up to pour its tunes through the car speakers.
The simplicity of those drives gave way to the crush of life once we drove back within city limits, but I’ll always remember those moments, the conversation, the sorting out of our lives.
Matthew Barber’s Ghost Notes is a bit like those drives. It opens up broadly, with nothing but the open road in front and a clear sky above. But as it continues, the focus narrows and those touchable certainties emerge.
Barber, a Toronto singer/songwriter, has carved quite a name for himself in the Canadian music scene and is beginning to gather steam South of the border as well. His roots-rock and folk tones rumble with the traditions of Dylan, Cohen, Williams, Petty, and even Springsteen, but he’s still got a sound all his own with the twang of country and the lyrical knack of some deep soul music.
Ghost Notes, nominated for a 2009 Juno in the roots/traditional category, is an engaging, intimate collection of beautiful songs from the heart.
The record begins with “Easily Bruised,” a telling personal number about a “man who didn’t know how to feel.” There’s a sort of reassuring country frame of mind and the song’s build is beguiling with piano and subtle strumming.
“I need your love like the air I breathe, I need it more than you could ever believe,” Barber sings on “And You Give.” He avoids cheesy terrain with low bass and well-expressed verbal pacing, urging the tune forward with sincerity.
“Somebody Sometime” flows with a gorgeous refrain, but it’s the lyrics of this song that really make it count. Barber’s phrasing is charming, accented by a horn in the distance. He utters lines like “Come on Barbie, let’s go party with a bottle of company wine” with such breathtaking earnestness that you forget all about Aqua.
The faint piano of “Where the River Bends” is graceful enough, but we’re treated to Barber’s greatly unassuming vocals too.
More than anything, Ghost Notes is a marvelous set of great tunes.
At the end of a shitty day when heading on a long drive with a good friend is what matters most, great tunes are as essential as gas in the car. And when we watch the night sky, all its shining stars staring back at us, something comforting takes place.
Simplicity: maybe that’s the secret. It sure is for Matthew Barber.