Singer-songwriter Dave Barnes is known for his warmth and vulnerability as a lyricist and storyteller. The words to his songs feel familiar long before the final chord is heard. Over the past decade and with five well-loved studio albums, the Nashville-based Barnes has effortlessly melded the sound of pop, country, rock, and soul. His sixth album, Stories To Tell, is the perfect mix of what fans have grown to love about his musical personality combined with a daring new approach to the making of this album. The interesting newness triggered by working with a new producer in a new city, includes more pronounced and unique instrumentation and a genre defining sound from song to song. Recorded in Los Angeles with pop-rock savant producer John Fields (Lifehouse, Switchfoot, Goo Goo Dolls, Jonas Brothers, Pink), Barnes exited his comfort zone to release true creativity.
“Making this album was a real bucket list thing. For my entire career I’ve dreamed about the romanticism of driving along the west coast to record in Los Angeles,” Barnes explains. “I’ve done all my other records in Nashville but for this one I wanted to do something different.” Barnes is as much referring to the decision to set up camp in California as he is the inner journey to challenge his own artistic boundaries and songwriting.
Barnes says, admitting that, at times, the process of making Stories To Tell was daunting even to himself. “It was a lot harder writing this record,” he says candidly. “Every part of this record feels like something new. Making this album was definitely a risky move. It involved leaving town and working with different producers and players,” he says reflecting. “But I felt I had to put my chips on the table and make an album that truly embodies my own musical vision.”
Stories To Tell sees Barnes turning his focus inward to create some of the most personal and instrumentally varied songs of his career. “It’s definitely poppy but everything is accounted for. There are no rogue parts or instrumentation, everything is really fleshed out and that’s what I was going for thankfully. Working with John, I knew he does kind of what I wanted to do which is make a little more of a pop record and get out of the self-imposed box I’ve been in for a while.”
Barnes and Fields crafted an album that spans from hook-laden rockers like “How Long” and “Seventeen” to the gentler terrain of acoustic-driven tunes like “Love Will Be Enough For Us.” Then songs like “Heaven Will Help Me” still tap into that soul-pop sound that is at the core of his musical career. Entering a new terrain, “Mine To Love” pulsates with a syncopated electro-groove. It’s a refreshing move resulting in a diverse collection of songs that hold together as a cohesive body of work.
“There were no rules as far as what could or couldn’t happen on this album which made it a lot of fun,” Barnes explains, adding that Stories To Tell features more synthesizers and additional instrumentation than his previous recordings. “If I said I wanted a huge marching band bass drum beat or a crazy snare sound then that’s what we tried. The entire experience was incredibly liberating in that sense,” he says, pausing thoughtfully, “My favorite artists are people who change as they’re inspired.”
While writing Stories To Tell his wife discovered she was pregnant with their first child and many of the songs are about that experience in some way, whether Barnes is welcoming his child to the world via “Mine To Love” or describing his connection to his new family member on songs like “One Of Us.”
While Barnes’ songs tend have a personal footnote, one of his talents as a writer is his ability to be deeply introspective in a way that’s broadly appealing. He adds, “One of the big themes on this record is enjoying the moment while you have it because who knows what will happen, that’s something that’s universal for everyone.”
Dave Barnes scripts songs in a way that’s all-inclusive. There is no better example than Barnes’ #1 song “God Gave Me You.” Grammy nominated this year for the Best Country Song as performed by Blake Shelton on 2011’s Red River Blue album. Barnes’ and Shelton’s versions of the song have sold over one million singles to date. Often recognized by the industry as a rising songwriter, Barnes has had many of his songs recorded by other artists including, country singer Billy Currington as well as Marc Broussard, Kelly Clarkson, and Bethany Dillon.
His sweetly-sophisticated compositional sense and willingness to take chances has led him to this moment in time, to this album. “Stories To Tell, is another bookmark,” Barnes says. “For me, that’s why I love making records; not because I was going for a specific sound but I was trying to encompass everything that I was listening to and enjoying at that time in my life. It is like a fun kind of musical history, like a photo album.”
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