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Review: Simple Songs – Barton

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These songs hardly categorize under the term “simple” from former Suntribe and Petal guitarist Kenneth Barton, whose 2nd solo album “Simple Songs” attempts to bring about a modern take on the classic and prog rock birthed from the glamorous 70s era from which he drew inspiration.

His decision to leave his previous bands and start his solo career might be reflected in the opening track “We Are The Ones” where the song’s eye-catching vocals claim that “the big dream is bullshit” before an meshed acoustic and electric solo comes in to grab your interest.

A guitarist since he was first encapsulated by the instrument’s magic, it’s no wonder how almost all of Barton’s guitar tracks, riffs and solos manage to stand out from the rather average-to-decent vocals. Songs like “Some Day” features his jazziest guitar work while “Wtf” delivers energetic chugging guitars to a rather Prince-esque track, which seems a pretty favorable and unintentional homage.

However, the biggest trouble I find with guitarist-penned albums is that majority of listeners out there don’t really pay first attention to the guitar work, with their ears naturally looking out for vocal hooks and catchy line to please them, leading to some pretty forgetful tracks like “Glamour In The Sky” with its tasteless auto-tuned vocal parts, and in the alternative rock track “Tool”.

And in just the 3rd track of the album, the reggae-based “The Healer” already presents itself as a “forgetful track” that doesn’t have much in the way of a memorable hook , as a result, the imminent guitar solo seemed quite forced and abrupt.

Barton still manages to let his guitar do the talking here on “Simple Songs”. After going through enough tracks, I’ve found that he has a way of channeling energy to his eclectic guitar solos, much in the way of Jonny Greenwood’s abrasive style. The phaser guitar driven track “Way About Her” features examples of that varied guitar sound and in the chorus guitar-led “Once Upon A Time” with its eastern feel and Robert Pollard-sounding vocals.

“The Gatekeeper” features the best vocal performance throughout the tracklist. It is exciting with well-written lyrics that possess a subtle dark theme. “I am the shadow dancer, weaver of light, carrying your memories and holding them tight”. Just really grim lines masked behind a feel-good sound.

Barton gets his Led Zep III going on in “For A While” that serves as a nice little interlude away from all the heavy guitars and into a world of acoustic guitars and folksy electrics.

The following track “Palo Alto” gets the standout track award from me with an ominous intro that brilliantly leads into a classic rock inspired chorus. It just encapsulates what Barton seems to have been aiming for with “Simple Songs” a twenty-first century view on the music he grew up with. And the fact that guitarist, instead of the usual singer-songwriter/frontman type, also owns that view it offers this new generation a unique understanding of what music sounded like back then.

RHAPSODY: http://www.rhapsody.com/artist/barton/album/simple-songs

Review by Michael Andrew Garcia