Saturday, November 16, 2013

Warren Barfield: Redbird; Album review by Kirk

Artist: Warren Barfield
Album: Redbird
Release Date:  Oct 12, 2012
Genre: Neo-folk, southern fried country without the twang.

Quick spin: Lone guy on a guitar or with small ensemble -- muscled baritone, singing gospel-colored story songs about growing up southern fried. No direct voice comparison, but his delivery shares qualities in common with to James Taylor, Pierce Pettis, Tim O'brien, Marc Cohn, maybe even John Mayer.


I have a theory about bargain bins. They hold the worst… and the very best the music that the world has to offer. Actually found this on Ebay for a buck. Never heard of the guy. Liked the art and the description, took the gamble. Won big time.

Turns out Warren is not a new kid on the block, this would be his fourth album. Also turns out, after reading some reviews, this album represents a turning point for Warren, one that may loosen some of his fan base, even as it adds new followers.

In short, Warren started out with a denser sound, sort of a countrified adult contemporary Nashville fare.  I read that his first album scored strong air play, even as he teamed with a contemporary Christian group Need to Breath, and (or then) recorded a song that was used in the indie/Christian film “Fireproof.”  (Sample)

Since purchasing Redbird, I have started listening  to Warren’s older work. For me, it's a mixed bag… Songs range from: "Oh my, how did I miss this"… to …"that was for someone else."

As it is, there are bucket loads of extremely talented people associated with CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) industry of Nashville, but the place readily suffers from an insular sound. I have come to view the CCM label as the kind of thing you don’t want to be saddled with, even if you are extremely talented – and a Christian singing in a contemporary context!  With Redbird, Warren leaves any vestiges of CCM formula music behind. (good luck getting most of this heard on the radio:)  This album represents a dynamic shift toward the kind of music I thoroughly enjoy: stripped down singer-songwriter artistry of the highest order.

The character of his voice is different, but I would readily compare the “new” warren with another southern Folk-master, Pierce Pettis.


Redbird opens with a song that seems at once ancient… and modern.  They lyrics to The Time is Now are chiseled and direct, the voice like rugged oak.    The chorus (make that choral groups calls to mind cotton fields, chain gangs or the black church...with old women in white hats (or something like that.)

I cut my teeth, on the back of an old church pew
I learned to walk in the ways of light and truth
And I was told not to speak til I was spoken to
I heard it preached, what I should and I should not do
And the choir sang
Woh oh oh oh oh oh oh Woh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Listen between the lines and see if you don’t hear…Martin Luther King, Atticus Finch, or  thousand others who have stood their ground in the face of the boot.

The remaining songs trace a small body of heart-felt themes: Some bright and sing-along, some darker hued, even Faulkneresque.

If I were to choose a theme for Redbird it would be this.  Sticking it out.

Sticking it out in the face of injustice, sticking it out in a climate of short term love, even sticking it out when the world might crush our delight in the indwelling God.   (This albums themes  run horizontal, but that last one is strongly implied.  It is the indwelling God who grants us the power to endure.

My favorites:

The bold opener – The Time is Now, followed by the genuinely lovely Red Bird, the darker-toned Love Does -- the concrete, detailed, heart-teaching ballad anchored in the life and enduring spirit of Warren’s Grandparents, They Don't Make'em Like They Used To -- and the outrageously gorgeous duet “Once You Find Love.” Truth is, you can read a much better description of each song and probably the whole album here (but then it wouldn't be my review.)

Short form: God working through Ebay… led me to this treasure, and I wanted you to know about. My ear is open.   Thanks Warren for taking this risk.  I deeply appreciate it.

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