Two siblings joining forces for an album project. For every precious collaboration from Stacey Earle on a Steve Earle tune, you can end up with other tandems whose work is pure schmaltz. Thankfully for those familiar with Canadian singer-songwriters Matthew Barber and Jill Barber, their playful, innocent sibling rivalry has been set aside for "The Family Album," an extremely sweet, stellar result.
With roughly a dozen solo albums between them, the Barbers opted for select covers combined with songs they hashed out themselves. The leadoff, a cover of Bobby Charles' "I Must Be In A Good Place Now," oozes with a relaxing Americana feel that recalls Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. It's a tune that is never forced, but sets the tone for the remainder of what is basically sonic gold to come. A like-minded tune comes later on the soothing "The Sweeter The Dawn," a cousin of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" complete with the brushes finding their way around the drums. It's doubtful you'll hear a more tranquil piece of work the rest of the year. And speaking of Young, the closing "Comes A Time" has a floating, weightless style to it.
Outside of their own compositions, the Barbers opt for fine Canadian wordsmiths, including "Song To A Young Seagull" by the late Gene MacLellan. Think of a toe-tapping hoe-down along the lines of fellow Canuck compadres Whitehorse (Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland). This is in contrast to the terribly tender "Today," penned by Jill, which moves as a dreamy snail's pace in the vein of Shovels & Rope.
The rootsy flavor throughout most of the record shines on "One True Love," driven by a simple backbeat and Jill's tender lead vocals with Matthew's harmonies coming in at all the right places. The one selection, which is good, but seems to pale compared to the others, is the hushed, almost spoken-word approach to "The Partisan," made famous by Leonard Cohen. Thankfully they more than redeem themselves on the delightful "Big Picture Window" with the mandolin accenting the proceedings perfectly as they watch the world go by.
The Barbers' take on the Townes Van Zandt classic "If I Needed You" lacks the little bounce found in the original. Here they slow things down with very fine results as Jill shines with the song slowly, but steadily being fleshed out. And as quickly as it starts it's over, 11 songs finely crafted by the Barbers. Hopefully this isn't just a one-off. But if it is it's a wonderful one-off.