Southern hospitality, at least in the musical sense, is long-lasting, but almost always leads to fans clamoring for more. After the immensely successful forays of What We Want, What We Get and the masterful Christmas album Very Merry Christmas, expectations for the next project of Dave Barnes have remained toweringly high, and this March's Stories to Tell is his answer. Though the Southern singer/songwriter's result is on the unexpected side, it's all the more rewarding.
It is apparent from the first few seconds of "White Flag" that Stories To Tell is no simple sequel. Barnes changes up everything for this follow-up to What We Want... with pop sparkle lining every track and most of the rootsy flair gone. Make no mistake; Barnes still sounds like himself and there is definitely a southern tinge to every note played, but those expecting merely a continuation from his last effort are in for a shocking surprise.
It would be tempting to cast out this new bouncy pop flavor (showcased best in "How Long" "Heaven Help Me," "Missing You" and "Find Your Way Home") as compromising to his musical integrity or even "selling out." One could solely pinpoint elements like the synth-generated strings on "How Long" or "Missing You" as lacking and disappointing, but naysayers would be unwise to make a quick judgment based on these areas, and these methods don't appear on the entirety of the album ("Love Will Be Enough for Us," "Warm Heart In a Cold World," and "One Of Us" are all typical of Barnes' precedent). With plenty of exceptional moments in and out of this sound, Stories to Tell boasts a wide variety of sounds to peruse.
What hasn't changed, however, is the heartfelt and overall enjoyable exterior Barnes is known for. While never an overtly spiritual album, Stories to Tell takes its time to relay poetic tales of love and loss. The first five tracks all look fondly on loved ones in Barnes' life with the showstopper being "Mine to Love," the album's first tribute to the thrill of parenthood. The mood starkly shifts, however, with "Seventeen," recounting regret in the form of a failed adolescent relationship. All the while, the backing music always adjusts unabruptly and in good flow with the album's concept. "One Of Us" details the worries and joys of becoming a parent in a love song to their first child, closing the record in introspective fashion ("Your mom and I were counting down days until that joyful sound, when you turned the two of us to three.../love and hurt, doubt and trust/welcome to being one of us"). It's the individual stories of the album, and their matching atmospheres, that make the listening experience all the more intimate and pleasing, all of which listeners have come to expect from Barnes and his talent.
With Stories to Tell easily being a departure from the distinctive charm of What We Want..., it will take some longer than others to fully adjust to this album's character. But as a balanced and charismatic record, Stories to Tell more than qualifies, despite its quirks and unusual qualities, and Barnes' music-making ways have only broadened. In the end, Barnes' Stories to Tell are well worth the time investment for old and new fans alike, making his musical return that much more exceptional.- Review date: 3/11/12, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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