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Jill and Matthew Barber bring ‘Family Album’ to Halifax

Singer-songwriter siblings performing at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Wednesday

4 min read
caption Jill and Matthew Barber.
Vanessa Heins/Outside Music
Jill and Matthew Barber.
caption Jill and Matthew Barber.
Vanessa Heins/Outside Music

Not all siblings could travel across eight Canadian provinces and sing together onstage every night, without driving each other crazy.

But, Matthew and Jill Barber are having the time of their lives.

On Wednesday, they will perform at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in the Dalhousie Arts Centre as part of a tour to promote their first shared album, The Family Album.

“We had a very easy, very natural, kind of organic experience,” says Jill Barber. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”

The tour started in September, going from Nova Scotia to British Columbia before circling back around. It’s due to finish in Fredericton, N.B., on Saturday.

This will be their only stop in Halifax.

“There’s absolutely nowhere else on Earth like the Maritimes,” Jill Barber says. “And especially Halifax. It’s the strongest community of talented musicians of anywhere in the world.”

Matthew Barber agrees.

“Musical traditions run so deep there compared to southern Ontario, where I’m from,” he says.

The siblings grew up in Port Credit, Ont., and began playing music as teenagers. Matthew Barber released his first album in 1999 and Jill Barber’s first release came in 2004. Since then they have each followed solo careers, but did collaborate on single for a charity compilation album in 2011.

“He’s three years older than me,” Jill Barber, 36, says about her brother. “When he started playing guitar and writing songs, I wanted to play guitar and write songs too; he was one of my early champions.”

She has been nominated for two Juno Awards, won two East Coast Music Awards and was named Best Local Solo Artist four times in The Coast’s Best of Reader’s Choice Awards. Her song “Chances” was featured on an episode of the TV series Orange Is The New Black.

The Family Album, released in April, is the siblings’ tribute to each other and to their parents, who are not musical, but whose photo albums are family treasures. It also includes “Grandpa Joe,” a song inspired by the life of their great-grandfather.

Musical role models, such as Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, also have their place on The Family Album in the form of cover versions. With such famous songs as “Comes a Time” and “The Partisan,” the siblings strike a balance between faithfulness and originality.

“Even if you sing a song pretty much in the same arrangement as the original (and) if you’re a good singer, your own sound will come out and your own stamp will be put on it,” says Matthew Barber.

They are both folk musicians, although Jill’s style is more influenced by jazz and Matthew’s by rock.

“I like that it’s simple and direct,” says Matthew Barber, describing the genre of folk music. “The lyrics are important; they tell a story. The music is played on mainly acoustic instruments, so it has a natural feel to it.”

He describes their combined style as “two voices singing in harmony.”

The Barber family has increased this year. Jill Barber’s second child, a baby girl, is coming along on the tour with her mother and uncle.

Sharing quality time, Jill Barber says, is an important part of touring.

“It’s a great opportunity, as an adult, to spend time with family,” she says.

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