Artist – Mr_Barbs
EP – The Dead Man’s Hand
Label – none, self released via myspace (Ã‚Â£3)
Sounds like – Sublime gone folk-rock whilst conversing with an acoustic cowboy.
There are many positive points to being a solo artist. One that springs to mind immediately is complete freedom to create songs about whatever you want and in any style without someone in the background saying â€œyeahâ€Â¦we could do that, orâ€Â¦.â€Â â€â€œ i.e. the constant nagging voice of the perpetual underminer as all your brilliant song ideas and witty lyricisms are cast aside for something with the depth and emotion of a depressed puddle. Another is the fact you can never break-up. Well, you can stop playing music, but thereâ€™s none of the â€œno, YOU suckâ€Â rivalry, unless you have an acrimonious disagreement with your guitar and dash it to pieces against the nearest wall. I suppose because of this, there are a lot of musicians choosing to do their own thing now without the struggles and shackles of being held down by a band. Going it alone armed with your acoustic (or in Mr_Barbsâ€™s case, 2 acoustics (1 which resembles what a car made of saucepans and a vintage lute would produce if they had sex) and a ukulele seems the way forward. Mr_Barbs (as previously featured here) is the work of Chris Barbour, a one-man guitar-fest of sombre acoustic whispers, Hawaiian upstrokes, loss and regret (as depicted on his myspace) and songs that may or may not reference card games.
Fitting to its name, ‘The Bargemanâ€™s Restâ€™ opens proceedings with the tone of a mournful sea-shanty. The sorrowful string arrangement creates a melancholy backdrop to the rapid guitar-strumming, whilst the layered, echoing vocals wash over the mix like some ghostly, hastily drawn breath. Itâ€™s the kind of track that would suit sound-tracking a panning shot of a cosy, yet dank, fishermanâ€™s pub, possibly in a lost scene from one of those Pirates of the Caribbean movies, if you catch my drift.
The light-airiness of ‘Buckledâ€™ has a kind of ‘Island In The Sunâ€™-vibe to it. Whilst it doesnâ€™t sound like this Weezer classic in a tune sense; it contains the soothing calm within its tropical sound â€â€œ mostly thanks to the atmospheric backing track of stuttering strings and glitchy-Caribbean noises. Certainly one of the strongest tracks on this EP and one that I find myself replaying the most. The soundtrack to sitting in a garden on a summerâ€™s day, quaffing a nice cold pint. I donâ€™t know why, but after listening to ‘Buckledâ€™ I want to watch some laid-back, 1960s-style light-hearted cop drama set in a village featuring Nick Berry.
The upbeat change of pace is out of context, but a welcoming in the form of third track, ‘Now I Know What I Knowâ€™, which sounds like George Formby (instrument-wise thankfully!) gone calypso, whilst channelling the ska-lite licks of Bradley Nowell. The song tells the familiar, yet sweet story of boy-meets-girl by the medium of seeking out a girl at a gig and chivalrously offering her his coat. It even features a little maraca shake at the end â€â€œ more ‘skacousticâ€™ (new genre for NME to lap up) please Mr_Barbs.
‘Nights Like Theseâ€™ is bookmarked by two passages of quick-guitar strumming that bring to mind American guitarist, Sir Richard Bishop. It has that same choppy, rhythmic quality and features a similarly stark, isolated sound. The track is fleshed out in the mid-section with the introduction of some bare percussion and the return of the haunting, looped vocals somewhere in the background. The xylophone touches in the end section add a nice twee-touch to the whole affair.
‘In The Shadowsâ€™ gives the impression of being recorded inside the back of a car, or possibly near the beach â€â€œ the tender rush of what could possibly be waves or wind in the background filters through at the 40 second mark, before the studio recording kicks into life, shifting into a faster tempo. My interpretation of the lyrics is that of a woman triumphing over a man, whilst the listener is told to side woman, in the line â€œyouâ€™ll think that heâ€™s a disgraceâ€Â or maybe itâ€™s a subtle attempt at putting the idea into the listeners head to see the man as ‘being in the wrong.â€™ However, the impression in the next part is that the woman is the one who is the real disgrace, as sheâ€™s accused of ‘betraying the man.â€™ In any case, it comes across as quite a bitter track, both vocally and through the dark instrumental sections, despite what sounds like the happy tones of the ukulele hidden beneath the layer of guitars.
â€œItâ€™s never going to tame me, itâ€™s only going to shame me, but itâ€™s comforting to know that someone caresâ€Â¦â€Â sings Mr_Barbs on ‘Buckledâ€™ â€â€œ youâ€™ve got nothing to worry about; with songs of this quality,Ã‚Â rest assured people will, should and do care. This is a splendid and well crafted selection of songs that vary in style and tone as they progress.
You can purchase ‘The Dead Man’s Hand’ from the Mr_Barbs myspace by clicking here.
By Ross Macdonald