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Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: Kevin Barker - You & Me

Kevin Barker - You & Me
2009, Gnomosong

Kevin Barker may be new to many, but he's been deep in the Indie music scene for some time now. A guitarist with the band Vetiver, Barker has also played/toured with Joanna Newsom, Devendra Barnhart, Antony And The Johnsons, The Espers and Vashti Bunyan. The Washington, D.C. native has been immersed in the Indie scene since his teens, and has covered all aspects of the music business (from playing to promotions to owning his own record label). Barker is also a filmmaker educated at Columbia University in New York City. Barker broke out on his own in January of 2010 with his debut solo album, You & Me. On his own, but not alone, Barker called on some of his close friends to make You & Me happen. Contributors include Pat Sansone (Wilco); Joanna Newsom, Jonathan Wilson (Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis); Eric Johnson (Shins, Fruit Bats) and Otto Hauser (Vetiver, Espers).

Barker opens with Little Picture Of You, an eccentric little Pop tune with a down-home feel that's relaxing for a change. You could almost picture Barker playing this sitting around on the back porch with some friends on a Saturday night. The guitar play does seem a little out of synch at times but it seems this is stylistic rather than inconsistent. Barker adopts a classic singer/songwriter style for You & Me, and the approach fares him moderately well. The song comes across bland, and Barker's energy level does little to break out of that shell. Mountain & Bear suffers from similar issues. Barker picks things up just a tad for Amber, getting more of a classic Americana/Country feel to the song. The energy level is still just a few notches above torpor, but Barker's voice and tuneful melodies will inspire you to keep listening and see if he can break through.

Listeners are at least partially rewarded on Walking Along. Barker shows a bit more commitment to this song, and the arrangement itself is charged with a bit more energy than the tracks that came before. Barker reminds me of Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn because of the quirky nature of his songwriting, although Hearn, even at his quietest moments is always a ball of energy musically. My Lady finds Barker truly rounding into his own. The energy here is real, running through ever line and note of the song. It's also among the best songwriting on the album, as Barker's heartfelt lyrics ring true. Barker closes quickly on Bless You On Your Way, a gorgeously constructed and orchestrated tune full of symbolism and nuance.

You & Me is a solid effort, with Kevin Barker comporting himself very well. The album has its ups and downs, but Bless You On Your Way would make almost anything worth listening to. Barker has a sublime sense of melody and a quirky, not-according-to-Hoyle songwriting style that catches your attention, but at times the energy level that comes through on You & Me kills the individual songs before they even get started. When Barker is on his game, the results are wonderful. As it is, You & Me is solid, off-the-beaten path singer/songwriter fare that will at least have some nuggets worth checking out for most listeners.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Kevin Barker at You can purchase You & Me as either a CD or Download from

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