Storytelling songsters double up at Arden
Del Barber and Ben Sures explore characters and issues
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 06:00 am
Del Barber and Ben Sures
Friday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $30. Call 780-459-1542 or purchase online at www.ticketmaster.ca
Pre-show beer tasting at 7 p.m.
Much like rambling tumbleweed, Del Barber tours for eight months of the year. It’s a heavy schedule and the Winnipegger is looking to trim it a bit.
But before the rootsy troubadour makes any drastic decisions, he’ll be stopping by the Arden Theatre in a double bill with Ben Sures on Friday, Jan. 25.
Barber first came to national prominence with his 2010 successful Love Songs for the Last 20 album that earned him a Juno nomination and two Western Canadian Music Awards.
Despite the numerous accolades that have landed on his shoulders, Barber says, “I constantly worry I’m resting on my laurels.”
The image-based storyteller has just released his third album, Headwaters, an examination of how the sources in our lives influence the directions we take, and how the past and present determine our future.
“My life takes a spiritual bent from time to time, and I find solace in spiritual traditions and practices. It helps me to see the world through an act of confession, but I don’t feel comfortable acting it out in a church. I confess my problems to waitresses at late night truck stops,” explains Barber.
On Headwaters’ album cover, an apron-clad waitress stands surrounded by a glowing halo at the starting point of a river. Tied to her wrist is a string holding a bird.
“The woman as a saint is who I talk to most honestly,” Barber says. “She is standing at the potential watershed of the river. For me that means you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you came from. The bird is me. It helps me remember where I came from.”
Once a philosophy student at Chicago’s North Park University, he left the ivory tower and picked a path voicing the blue-collar man’s stories, much as his hero Bruce Springsteen or cousin Colin James have done.
Barber has fashioned a chequered career of experiences planting trees in British Columbia, serving coffee in Georgia and driving drug addicts to court days in Winnipeg.
In between he worked as mountain guide, janitor, construction worker, groundskeeper, counselor, icemaker, teacher’s assistant, roofer and fisherman.
But he always returned to music, a place where he felt free and hopeful.
Barber’s 2009 debut album, City Ends, delivered a younger perspective with image-based poetic musings.
“It was a more ego-driven record,” he says.
The follow-up, Love Songs, displayed a shift from meandering musings to a more character-based narrative. And finally in Headwaters Barber has made the transition to character songs, direct narrative, parables and soft political statements.
The Waitress is an archetypal character, a woman who leaves the small town for the big city grandeur only to discover she misses rural living. Right Side of Wrong is a colourful parable and Hen House Manifesto questions happiness.
Not one to shy away from any topic, the accomplished storyteller is just as likely to write songs about the lightness of first love as the darker avenues of racism.
“I try to write it in a good way instead of those sweeping political statements. I write character stories,” Barber says.
On the other hand Ben Sures, the most played Alberta artist on CKUA Radio in 2011, views all events and happenings as being interconnected.
“There’s so much idealism when you start out. I think you create ideals because you don’t have life experience. As time goes on, life never pans out the way you want it to and you have to adapt to reality,” Sures says matter-of-factly.
Although disappointment is part of the creation process, the Edmonton-based singer-songwriter showed evidence of a strong talent in 2005 when his tune Any Precious Girl won the John Lennon Songwriting Competition.
The well-crafted lyrics are about a woman who deals with isolation.
“They’re a bit of a hit with the mental health crowd,” Sures states. “I like to tap into all things people think about but no one talks about. For me everything is connected and no one is free of responsibility.”
In fact, creating and viewing the world with a fresh take is in his DNA. His mother is Canadian painter Deborah Uman-Sures, and his father Jack Sures received the Order of Canada for his innovative ceramics.
By 15, Sures was playing the acoustic blues and knew he wanted to write songs. In his 20s he was pumping out the blues with a yen to establish himself as a songwriter in the same vein as James Keelaghan and Taj Mahal.
Five albums later his most fully realized album is the 2011 Gone to Bolivia. Although it explores the South American world through several Spanish pieces, the song that’s grabbed the most headlines is American Shantytown.
“When the September 11 attacks happened, it pissed me off that nothing that had ever happened in the world before mattered. But because it happened where it happened, all of a sudden, it was important,” he says. “And when the economy failed, all of a sudden shanty towns popped up all over the place.”
Perhaps it’s his fiery lyrics that take a swat at injustice, but Sures has drawn the attention of authors. He is a character in two books – Janice MacDonald’s Hang Down Your Head and Sophie Watson’s Cadillac Couches.
As for the Arden concert, “It’s for people that grew up loving good songs, meaningful songs that have history and a story arc,” Sures says. “I’d like to think I’d made songs that are inroads into people’s lives.”