I love Canada. You
should love Canada too. It’s cold there,
much colder than wherever you are.
Unless you’re reading this from Canada.
Or Scandinavia. One surmises that
in colder climes there’s more time to make music as there’s no real reason to
go outside and stand in the snow.
Laura Barrett’s new long-player Victory Garden is surprising not because it comes from Canada but
rather it is imbued with a luminous sunlight bright enough to melt the coldest
winter snow. Even stranger is the fact
that the sunlight comes not from guitars, bass, or drums, but from kalimba, the
thumb piano native to Africa that is Barrett’s stock-and-trade.
Kalimba sets the foundation for the songs on Victory Garden and indeed percussion is
key here. Barrett herself plays piano,
xylophone, and glockenspiel. As if not
enough tuned percussion (you’d be surprised), Paul Aucoin joins with vibraphone,
grand marimba, and xylophone. The result
of this percussion bed is akin to the minimalist compositions of Terry Riley
and, especially, Steve Reich, whose compositions for marimba provide a kind of
touchstone for Barrett’s work here. Barrett and Aucoin’s percussion work is
augmented by a variety of horns, reeds, and strings; the resulting album is
akin to a stage musical helmed by a whimsical elf.
One wishes that the tunes themselves matched the interesting
arrangements, but the songs themselves are not quite so incredible. Not that they are bad, by any means, for
indeed they have a certain sense of whimsy that in most ways match the
arrangements. The arrangements, though,
are so good that in some ways they force the listener to wonder what song is
actually lurking beneath the layered sounds.
At times, perhaps that song is not quite as impressive as the
instrumentation, as on the album’s low point, “Rien a Declarer.”
Despite such occasional missteps, Victory Garden is very much worth pondering. Barrett is on to something here: off-kilter
songwriting expertly arranged.
“Bluebird,” “Escape to the Sun Dome” CHRISTIAN