Here’s my one-sentence review of Easy Keeper: Del Barber has really hit the sweet spot. It’s not just his songwriting, or even his performance, on this album. It’s that Barber’s sense of himself is so secure, and joyful, that it resonates throughout this album. Easy Keeper may be the Juno-nominated artist’s latest album, but it’s clear that more than anything else it’s a reminder to himself of who he’s become — and who he wants to grow into.
An “easy keeper” is a term from Barber’s Manitoba upbringing — a farm animal that’s easy to handle, giving more than it takes. “Ultimately, I think to become an easy keeper is to be someone who is quick to listen,” says Barber. The songs on this album are about that journey, directly and indirectly. “Dancing in the Living Room,” the album’s opener, is a quietly resounding declaration of self. It introduces Easy Keeper’s sweeping central themes within the confines of a cozy waltz enclosed by four corners. In Barber’s rotations around the room with his partner, he muses on being satisfied with what he has, keeping life simple, and being motivated by love rather than scarcity.
Barber returns to this theme in the album’s title track. He describes the hard-won lessons that he hopes to pass on to the future:
If I can raise up my child to know just where she’s from
Smile when the west wind blows through her hair
Wonder at the sky, be it stars, thunder, or aurora
It’s wonder that’s the virtue that will take you anywhere
As important as these principles are for young people, the song serves as a gentle reminder for people of all ages. By contrast, the ominous murder ballad “Blood on the Sand” warns of the danger of jealousy and fear — the perils of shutting that sense of wonder out of your life.
Easy Keeper is populated with characters who have found themselves at their worst moments, and what they do after that. For that, the standout is “Louise,” an ode to a lover with a lengthy history. While the narrator acknowledges Louise’s complexity, he focuses on the simple mechanics of their partnership: “Her heart could set the time on the tower of Big Ben.” Barber has captured the true magic of country songwriting: taking a humble turn of phrase that calls attention to its artistry. In portraying the complexities of life in neat, three-verse packages, Barber’s lived up to the album’s title — and his promise to himself.