For the Advertiser
Key City Theatre has hit the ground running for their 30th season with several sold out shows at the beautiful Royal Alexandra Hall.
The upcoming three-show set featuring Barney Bentall with opener Wild Honey is following suit. Tickets for these small Covid-comfortable shows flew out like geese heading south for the winter.
Despite several sabbaticals from the musical wars, Barney remains very much part of the fabric of Canadian music culture. As frequent collaborator Jim Cuddy, who guested on “Won’t Change the World,” notes, “Barney had a similar trajectory as a neo-roots troubadour to the one we experienced in Blue Rodeo. He has so successfully transitioned from fronting a rock band to being a true Canadian troubadour in the tradition of Lightfoot, McLauchlan, and Cohen.
“I have loved his solo records, and they have frequently brought me to tears. He is a very poignant songwriter. His voice has the ring of authenticity, and I am easily swept up in the narrative of his songs. His records are my ‘go to’ ones when I need some familiarity to soothe my worries. Quite a man, quite an artist.”
A jeans and T-shirt kind of guy, Barney is foremost a journeyman artist who is writing better than he ever has; feeling that he’s still got something that he wants to say, and there might be people out there who want to hear it.
While each album is an experience in itself, how does an artist know a set of songs are ready to record? “Just labour, it’s a gift,” offered craftsman Leonard Cohen in the ‘70s. “Like any safecracker, you just know there’s a moment when it opens. When it comes together.”
“Another description comes from Joe Henry,” counters Barney. “He said something to the effect, ‘We write songs. That’s what we do. All of a sudden, you notice that some of these songs are forming a gang, and that’s a message, that a body of work is on its way to becoming a record.’ When I read that quote, I felt that it summed up the process beautifully.”
Barney acknowledges that songs often write themselves. “There are times I look back, and think, ‘Well, that’s not where I thought this one was going to go.’A song takes you where it wants to take you, if you are open and you surrender to those moments.
Following on the success of his 2017 album The Drifter and the Preacher, Barney recently released a stellar collaboration with Geoffrey Kelly; RanchWriters.
As one of the primary songwriters in Spirit of the West, Geoffrey Kelly is one of the nation’s most lauded Celtic musicians and folk-rockers who has also performed with the Irish Rovers and as one of the Paperboys. The prolific pair came together at Bentall’s ranch in the heart of the Cariboo region of British Columbia during 2020’s relative isolation, ultimately bringing their long-fated RanchWriters collaboration to life.
While the act of gathering was not a new experience for the friends of 40+ years, this time was a bit different, they say. “On nice days, we might park ourselves on a couple of old chairs by the creek,” Bentall recalls of the visits over the years. “We tend to lose ourselves, and become comically oblivious to any noise or frivolity going on around. There’s no agenda and no pressure to come up with a thoughtful and meaningful lyric. Truth be told, it’s quite liberating. This time, being well aware that the times are strange, and words don’t seem to be able to fully capture what the world is going through, we delved deeper and deeper into that instrumental writing process.”
“Making the RanchWriters album with Barney feels like a gift I never saw coming,” Kelly considers. “I’m sure glad we wandered down that path. Hypnotic patterns, layering, swirling, dreamy repetition; it all seemed to flow, much like the creek at the ranch in the Cariboo where everything started — with no clock, no deadline, and no agenda.”
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Embracing freedom from lyric-based songwriting structures that have spanned their tenured careers, the two tested new techniques — finding unexpected inspiration along the way. “I’d found myself gravitating to instrumental music of late;” Bentall shares. “A chance to be steered only by where the tune takes you.”
“A lot of melodies on the album evolved from using an alternate tuning,” Kelly adds. “I got the tuning from the playing of the great Jackie Leven — who is, sadly, no longer with us.
“That new framework of open tuning seemed to bring forth many wonderful melodies and ideas,” Bentall says. The combination of the two, with my standard tuning, was enchanting and inspiring to us.”
The result is an entirely instrumental 12-track album dubbed as ‘Cinematic Canadiana’ for its journey across acoustic Americana to traditional folk to New-Grass genres. With all songs written and produced by Kelly and Bentall — plus a co-write from Trixie Berkel on “Marble Canyon Rag” — the two were joined in production by John Raham, who also recorded and mixed the release.
“In Fall of 2020, John called to say he was heading our way with a mobile recording rig, and adding a stop at the ranch seemed like a perfect opportunity to bring the RanchWriters idea to fruition,” Bentall says of the chance to record the release within the same walls they were first created in. “These walls are made of hand-hewn square logs. There are no hard, reflective surfaces; they’re perfect for sound.
“The house was rebuilt out of the old log homestead from the 30s or 40s; children had been born within them; hard cold winters had been endured; Saturday night get-togethers had filled the building with music — a tradition that continues to this day! So we assembled some of our favourite musicians — with others contributing remotely all the way from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island — and hunkered down for three days that October; a beautiful time of year in the Cariboo.
“We are all aware that it is a strange and complex time in the world,” he adds. “Songs with words can be a source of comfort, but sometimes it’s nice to let your mind, heart, and soul float in any direction.”
Barney Bentall fans are in for a real treat. The show opens with Kootenay trio Wild Honey: Shelby Knudsen, Jessica Niedermayer and Laura Cain. Their roots sound and creative songwriting will be sure to grab your heart.