Essentials… with Del Barber

Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them. Here are the picks of an acclaimed Manitoba roots songsmith.

Essentials… with Del Barber

By Jason Schneider

Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them.


Del Barber was really looking forward to 2020. In late 2019 he released the album Easy Keeper, which immediately captured the attention of critics everywhere. The acclaim continued to build over the next several months, resulting in Barber being nominated for Roots Artist of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards, as well as SOCAN Songwriter of the Year, and Easy Keeper earning a Juno nomination for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. He had extensive tour dates mapped out, but then… well, you know.


Isolated on his small farm in rural Manitoba, Barber began re-evaluating every aspect of his life, although in some ways it was his creative process that was most at stake. He determined to write a new collection of songs, and each morning would go into his shed studio with the expectation of having inspiration take over.

However, this approach proved frustrating, and soon Barber found himself looking back into old notebooks and going through his hard drive for past demos. Out of those countless scraps and fragments, some fully polished gems eventually emerged that now comprise Barber’s new album Stray Dogs, a more than worthy successor to Easy Keeper in terms of displaying his artistic depth and resilience.

Stray Dogs exudes a powerful, acoustic-based austerity. After working out arrangements remotely, Barber and his longtime band were able to safely get together at a cabin where they laid down the final takes with producer/engineer Scott Franchuk over a period of five days, fuelled by the energy of being together again after months apart.

Perhaps in essence, Stray Dogs is a trip through Barber’s own memory and the kind of reflection we all need at certain points in our lives. And in the end, it’s made the future feel a lot less daunting.


Del Barber’s Stray Dogs is out Aug. 20 on vinyl and on all digital platforms via Acronym Records. For more information go to


Essential Album: James McMurtry, The Horses And The Hounds (New West, 2021)

This album comes out on Aug. 20 and I haven’t been this excited to hear an entire record from anyone in years. I’ve been spending a lot of time with James’ catalogue leading up to this release, leaning into his ability to perfectly describe character and to question the bones of culture. The single Canola Fields is a perfect example of what I want from songs. The world needs more James McMurtry.

“We all filtered away with the days gettin’ shorter

Seeking our place in the greater scheme

Kids and careers and a vague sense of order

Bustin’ apart at the seams”


Essential Book: Eowyn Ivey, To The Bright Edge Of The World (Little, Brown, 2016)

I recently re-read this one and I think it has firmly planted itself in my Top 10 favourite books. It really feels like a modern classic to me. On the surface, it’s about an Alaskan exploration, with the narrative driven by letters that go back and forth between Colonel Allen Forrester and his pregnant partner Sophie. She is forced to live in the military barracks while he heads out on an epic adventure. Ivey is a wonderfully skilled writer and her books are a treat to read, but beyond that, what she is able to say about the world through these two characters really got to me. It’s a sober and careful criticism of colonization and of the roles of women in society, while at the same time a celebration of wild places and our desire to see what’s around the next corner.


Essential TV:The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008)

Okay, everyone says you should watch The Wire. Well, I agree, but let me also add that you should re-watch The Wire. I’ve watched this series so many times, and I will happily be the annoying guy who will get upset with you if you have not watched it even once. The Wire reminds me so much of some of the great Russian novels—so many moving parts and so many characters. It’s a real study of the human condition that takes places in Baltimore. This show has a lot to say and is also entertaining as hell, so re-watch it!

Essential Movie:Fletch (1985)

I needed a pick-me-up the other day because I hadn’t slept in a few days—we have a two-week-old baby boy—so in the middle of the night I put on Fletch with Chevy Chase. I don’t usually feel like I’m getting anything out of comedies, but damn, I woke my poor exhausted partner up because I was laughing too loud in the living room at 3 a.m. It was good medicine. Sure, there are some jokes that are in bad taste—comedies don’t often age well, I think—but Chevy is a brilliant actor and so much of this movie feels both improvised and incredibly sharp. It had been a long time since I’d watched it and I didn’t expect to laugh so much and so loud.

Allison Russell accepting the Billboard Canada Women in Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year award
Marc Thususka Photography

Allison Russell accepting the Billboard Canada Women in Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year award

Music News

Allison Russell Named Billboard Canada Women In Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year

The Nashville-based musician from Montreal has been having a huge year, including her first Grammy and her first Hot 100 appearance. Accepting the award on June 19 at the iHeartRadio Canada studio, she talked about her LGBTQ+ advocacy work and the importance of playing with underrepresented musicians.

It was a special Juneteenth for Allison Russell.

Not only did she serve as the special Toronto opener for Sarah McLachlan on the Canadian icon’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy 30th anniversary tour, but she earned another big honour: Billboard Canada Women In Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year.

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