Sound Advice: True Believer by Matthew Barber
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Sound Advice: True Believer by Matthew Barber

Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.


When Toronto’s Matthew Barber broke through in the early 2000s, his sound was treat enough to Canadian ears to make him both a critical and mainstream success. Now, although he often flies a little under the radar, his influence can be heard in numerous campfire troubadours like local countrified nice guy Nick Rose. On True Believer, Barber holds close to those soft folk-pop roots while reminding us of his immaculate control over a slowed-down sound that, when not in the hands of a songwriter this well honed, can often drift into a forgettable void.
Now, five albums in, Barber’s sound remains unaffected by trends and comforting for that, if not a little syrupy. Produced by fellow popsmith Howie Beck and pared down to mostly just Barber himself on the album, True Believer‘s softness is not weakness. Instead, its unrushed pace exudes a calm, emanating no doubt from the title track’s happy-ending love story. If you’re looking for bombast, Barber’s not your guy. He never was. It’s in the tiny moments, like the sunny bass manoeuvring of “Insanity or Death” where we feel Barber’s quiet joy and modest outlook, or the seamless blend of Appalachian roots, slinky blues, and all-out alt-country in “Comeback Baby” (streaming above) that the true defining Barberisms—the polished intricacies of an artist in control on his craft—shine. The dusty summertime-stroll feeling comes back full-stop with the backwoods peace of “While Away” where Barber fully discloses what his music has made us feel all along: “Something about a summer day takes my blues away.”
It’s a nice surprise when the relatively guarded Barber gets real on the piano hymn “Suddenly,” an ode to the end, but even in its disparity, he keeps his composure. Though his falsetto crackles, it never fully surrenders to his poise, a testament to the art of structure behind Barber’s and True Believer‘s solid craftsmanship.