Winnipeg folk-roots artist Del Barber can’t quite put his finger on why his music has always seemingly gone over so well in Atlantic Canada. He is willing to hypothesize why it might be, however:
“There is an amazing culture of songwriting on the East Coast; songwriters love songwriters and more middle class people engage with the arts compared to other parts of the country. People in Atlantic Canada have just always responded to my music so much more enthusiastically than I ever could have imagined they would. It is like we are all speaking the same language,” Del says.
Performing at Moncton’s Plan b Lounge on Saturday evening, the common thread sewn throughout Del’s fantastic new record Prairieography is one of geography. More specifically, the record centres on the make-up of the Canadian landscape. His keen observations on rural and urban life as well as isolation are mixed with a captivating style of storytelling.
The battle for supremacy between rural and urban Canada can be a constant tug of war. According to 2013 statistics, 60% of the entire Canadian population can be found in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Del feels that this in turn leads to the Maritimes and provinces like Del’s home of Manitoba feeling marginalized.
“I think that even though Manitoba and the Prairies are geographically separated from the Maritimes, we all boast a connection to rural Canada, which is what ultimately bonds us. Both Manitoba and the Maritimes seem to get forgotten about. To people from outside of those regions, they think they have an idea what those areas of the country are about based on a city or two, when in fact the landscape is different and the people are different everywhere you go.
“A lot of those themes run throughout my songs. As a writer, I think that you can’t help but write about where you’re from. I write about the tension between the urban world and the rural world but I also tend to focus upon the lack of differences between those two worlds as well. People’s core desires are the same, no matter where they call home.”
Perhaps ironically, Del’s observations on geography and the world around us might have gone unheard had he not decided to pursue a career in music. Admitting that he danced around university life, he shares that he was gainfully employed in the realm of labour and construction before music came calling.
“I probably would have ended up with some kind of trade or working for some farmer somewhere but I’m sure that I would have been totally happy doing that. I love that work and miss it but also still get to partake in it quite a bit,” he says.
Prairieography is Del’s fourth record and arguably his strongest to date. In its review of the record, The Boston Globe said the album “turned geography into poetry” while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel compared the young singer-songwriter to one of his biggest influences, Ian Tyson.
Thanks to his dual Canadian and American citizenship, Del has extensively toured throughout Canada and the United States but has also made three trips overseas to the United Kingdom. He admits that it is tough to actually measure his success in any territory but has definitely found an audience willing to tune in to hear what he has to say. As long as those people keep coming out, he has no intention on stopping the music anytime soon.
“It can be a tough go anywhere,” he says. “There are places in the States where I have great pockets of support but getting press and securing radio play can be a very competitive thing in any market. I have got a great group of people helping me out though, which is great.
“I have always found it really interesting to see the way people respond to my music. I sit back and wonder why someone in Wales wants to hear songs from a Canadian but feel that a lot of those themes that I write about and sing of are things that people anywhere in the world could maybe identify with.”
What: Del Barber
When: Saturday May 10, 9:00 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton