Home Read Albums Of The Week: Del Barber | Almanac

Albums Of The Week: Del Barber | Almanac

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “When Del Barber set to writing the 12 songs that comprise his eighth album Almanac, he adhered more than ever to a prairie aesthetic. The record follows Barber’s acclaimed 2021 album Stray Dogs: Collected B-Sides Vol. 1, made during the height of pandemic restrictions. Stray Dogs brought Barber to the end of one season; Almanac doggedly led him into the next.

“I want my work to be seen as subtle by definition,” Barber says. “I want my statements to come across as questions rather than decrees or opinions. Some of the songs are descriptions of my world through my own eyes, a way of songwriting I’ve never felt I’ve done well until now. Writing Almanac felt like I had another chance. It felt like spring.”

After writing Almanac on his farm 400 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg, where he lives with his wife and two children, the three-time Juno nominee took his road band into the city. The album was recorded at No Fun Club in the space of a week with co-producers Grant Siemens and Scott Franchuk. Barber says that he wanted the atmosphere in the studio to be spontaneous and collaborative, traits that definitely shine through on Almanac’s lively, unpolished sound. “It was a really beautiful session,” he says. “There were no grand intentions, just an aim to get good friends and players together and record a pile of my songs. Going into this session I really wanted to enjoy the process, not think too hard, and just keep it simple and honest. I had a group of great songs and I really didn’t want to stand in their way.”

Among those songs, Barber has a few personal favourites. Still Got You, a song about the beauty and challenge of rural isolation; I Told You So, a nuanced portrait of grief; and One Good Year, a celebration of a modern farmer who is both grateful for what he has and scared that it won’t be enough. Another standout is Jared, based on his mother’s four decade long career running a drug rehabilitation centre. “My first jobs were there,” Barber says. “I spent every Christmas celebrating with criminals and those hard done by. Jared is based on a character from those times, and is an attempt to recognize the light and darkness that exists in each of us.”

This kind of storytelling is indicative of Almanac as a whole, making it another worthy addition to Barber’s body of work, alongside the essential Prairieography (2012) and Easy Keeper (2019). However, what ultimately sets Almanac apart is the clear maturation of Barber’s songwriting and performing approach. With the recent passing of two of his biggest musical heroes, John Prine and Ian Tyson, Barber is more determined than ever to further the songwriting tradition in their wake.

“We can’t predict the weather, first and last first dates, or catastrophic storm events,” Barber says, “but mostly we come damn close… it’s cliche, but you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re from.” The result of Barber’s own retrospection is Almanac. True to the definition of its namesake, the record is itself a kind of almanac. “I can’t help but be hopeful with this record. This group of songs is a reminder of our collected stories. It’s OK to lean into life’s uncertainty, and we can use that guarantee to chart our way forward together. There’s hope in that, I think.”