Although they don’t come from a musical family per se, with their aptly titled release, The Family Album, Matthew Barber and his sister, Jill Barber, expound on the Canadian folk music tradition that influenced their upbringing. Half of the LP pays tribute to tunes from their fellow countrymen including Neil Young, Ian Tyson and Leonard Cohen, while the other half contains classic songs from Townes van Zandt (“If I Needed You”) and Bobby Charles (“I Must Be in a Good Place Now”), all of it coated in luscious sibling harmony. Joining the six covers are five originals from the pair, including one of the album’s numerous highlights, a gorgeous bluegrass-country ballad called “Big Picture Window.”
Born in the Port Credit neighborhood of Mississauga, Ontario, Matthew Barber is the older of the two, by three years. While both he and his sister have released solo projects, this is their first duets album. Recorded in the span of a week in Toronto, the covers for the LP were chosen both because they were fun to sing and also because of their significance to both singers. On a dreamy, piano-led arrangement of Neil Young’s 1978 tune “Comes a Time” (featuring harmony singer Nicolette Larson), the tempo is slowed down considerably, instilling the tune with a poignancy missing from the original. The hypnotic live version, captured in the above video, also features a beautiful fiddle solo, adding to the intimate feel of the entire record.
“Neil Young has always been a favorite of everyone in our family,” Matt Barber tells Rolling Stone Country. “Our parents grew up in Winnipeg at the same time he was playing with his first band, the Squires, and I would say he is my number one musical inspiration. This was the last song we added to the list before going into the studio and it was Jill that suggested it. It works really well with harmony and it felt good the first time we sang it together.”
History would suggest that the brother and sister achieved much more satisfying results with their version than Young had early on with his. In 2014, Young told Rolling Stone that he bought back the first 200,000 copies of his Comes a Time album because he was unhappy with how the record sounded. (He used the returned LPs as shingles for a barn roof.)
The Family Album is available now at iTunes.