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REVIEW: Matthew Barber – Big Romance

By Jan Smit

There will probably always be debate about what makes an album a good album. For a large part it is a matter of taste, of course. But other aspects play a role as well. After I listened to Big Romance by Canadian singer-songwriter Matthew Barber for the first time I immediately liked it. Matter of taste? Sure, I tend to like country rock type recordings, but there is an uncompromising honesty in the songs that lend this record a special quality and makes the album a pleasure to listen to.

No elements have been added to the music that might distract the listener from the essential emotions the songs want to evoke. The transparancy of the songs is also reflected in the colorful basic pop art presented on the sleeve. The album is a showcase for the broad range of musical styles Matthew is able to cover in his songwriting and recording. The diversity that characterizes this album will take you from sensitive ballad to straight forward country rock, from acoustic to electric. Despite the variety of styles, producer Gary Louris (Jayhawks) has managed to create a coherent sound that fits perfectly in the country rock / folk category. All songs on Big Romance have been written by Matthew.

A couple of highlights: the opening song Hold Me is a beautiful piano based ballad with vocal harmonies from Matthew and his sister Jill. The opening bars of Magnet Eyes with acoustic guitar and harmonica are strongly reminiscent of the sound of that other Canadian – Neil Young – on his Harvest album (nice lyric: Magnetized by those magnet eyes). The intro riff of my favourite song from this album – Dance Of The Honey Bee – seems to be a tribute to Young’s Alabama from that same Harvest album. Great guitar work: at first subdued, then explosive. In the fast-paced Big Romance the singer travels around restlessly in Italy, only to discover the true value of home. Magic Greg is a song about the loss of a friend in which the weeping electric guitar underlines the sadness of the subject matter. In short, a great album! Benelux release scheduled for 14 March 2015.

Listen from Big Romance:

  • Hold Me
  • Magnet Eyes
  • Big Romance
  • Magic Greg