Barbara K – Groover’s Paradise
For Barbara K, it’s all about the groove. Her songs are filled with percussion and rhythms that are instantly attractive and draw the listener closer. “Music that grooves is a lot more interesting,” she says. “Groove creates intimacy among the players. Intimacy is good.
“I have a percussive approach to my guitar playing that takes me deep into the heart of the groove,” she continues. “My mission in life is to explore the groove to its very essence. And in discovering its essence, I attempt to playfully develop the groove into a song, creating a rhythmic platform for some lyrical insights into modern predicaments.”
On her debut solo disc, Ready, K successfully merges that groove into her songs. Ready flows from one tune to the next with deep personal meaning, yet with engrossing sonic trappings and remarkably funky rhythms. Listening to the album is an experience different from hearing the records of typical contemporary singer-songwriters.
Although this is her first release under her own name, K is no rookie. For more than a decade, she and ex-husband Pat MacDonald teamed up as Timbuk3, who released a half-dozen albums and scored a Top-20 single in 1986 with “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”.
Timbuk3 dissolved, along with their marriage, in 1996. “Pat had been writing some new songs. He was interested in performing these new songs rather than songs from the Timbuk3 catalog,” K explains. “The songs he was writing were a darker quality than he’d been writing previously. I felt a little constricted in Timbuk3 as I wasn’t that comfortable with the material. These new songs seemed to be darker than anything we’d done previously, and I was uncomfortable with it.”
K had co-written some of Timbuk3’s songs over the years. “I would come up with some of the grooves and music and changes and melodies and stuff; Pat wrote the lyrics,” she says. “I would write lyrics occasionally, but I was very sensitive to criticism and Pat was very critical, so I would end up just giving up. I’d write a song and that would be it for a year or something. So it wasn’t until we decided to stop performing as Timbuk3 that I decided to start writing again just for the joy of it. Actually I’ve written songs since I was about 10 or 12 years old.”
Her writing style is unorthodox, as evidenced by the story she tells of how the album’s opening track, “Defenseless”, came to her. “The first verse of ‘Defenseless’ happened at three in the morning,” she recalls. “I was woken up by a family of raccoons outside my bedroom window. I could hear this scratching and crunching, and I looked out — there were five coons. It was during the drought and they must have been looking for some food or a place to live. I was so excited that I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to take a bath, thinking it would calm me down. And as I was sitting in the bathtub, the words to that song just floated in.
“It was a gift. I got up and wrote it down with wet hands, and the ink got all blotchy. Some more came in the morning and throughout the next day. I live a lifestyle that allows for a lot of time to be spent in moments of contemplation, and I place a high value on that kind of dreamtime consciousness. It’s the sleepy consciousness that allows different things to come in that have some kind of significance.”
Indeed, some songs on Ready have a dreamlike, ethereal quality to them. Tunes such as “I’ve Known You Before”, “All The Way Down” and “Feel” simmer and perk with an alluring undertow that draws the listener in, while slyly working up a steamy sweat.
Her previous experience with the music business, combined with her responsibilities as a parent, compelled K to wait to release these songs, however. “I didn’t want to release a record until my songs were a certain age,” she says. “Because the amount of time it takes to promote a record to really get behind it, or to get a record company behind it, was not conducive to raising a child single-handedly. That was one aspect of the breakup of Timbuk3 and the marriage — that I was left, gladly, holding that together for my son. I’ve known for the last four or five years that I would not release a record until he was at least a senior in high school or be an individual who could get by in the world without his mom for periods of time. He’s 17 now and doing really well, plus he’s very supportive of me.”
Now she appears, as her album title suggests, ready for those who want to listen. “I wanted the songs to represent me as an artist, and the vision that I have for myself and the role music plays in my life,” she asserts. “It’s a gift that I can give to anyone, whoever might be interested in receiving it.”