Kim Barlow has a way with words.
The sweet-voiced songwriter can fill a three-minute tune with years of hard-knock experiences, and deliver it with just enough playfulness to make the result palatable.
Now, with the help of a creative MySpace page and a tenacious new record label, Barlow is playing her latest disc, Champ, for the world.
It’s a 12-song production named after a sad little pony.
Or, as Barlow put it recently: a “collection of earthy, wry allegories about love, death and horses.
“A lot of the songs are about little battles that we lose along the way without feeling defeated.
“It’s about rooting for the underdog; it’s a little bit ironic, in a way.”
It sounds like, “The McGarrigles meet a guy named Vinny in an alley and they all go back to the bar and swap stories for the rest of the night,” she added.
Barlow, on vocals, banjo and guitar, and a few other musicians wrapped up the recording at Old Crow Studios during November’s wicked cold snap.
“There was a survival instinct that kicked in and made it much more intense,” she said.
Her eight-year-old son Eli played drums on one song, Planet Eli.
The CD hasn’t been officially released yet, but it’s already making waves in the Outside world.
In January, a song on the album, But He Don’t, made the Toronto Star’s anti-hit list, which billed it as an “a self-depreciating tale of unrequited love.”
It’s also been getting a lot of attention from cyberspace.
MySpace, a site which has evolved into a global online community for musicians, lets Barlow list her upcoming concerts, post four songs for download, and link to friends and musicians around the world.
On the site, Barlow has 1,026 friends.
They’re mostly musicians — Rock Plaza Central, Veda Hille, the Wailin’ Jennys, Anne Louise Genest, Daisy Duke and The Weakerthans — that throw listeners to Barlow’s site and she does the same for them.
When Vancouver-based punk rock accordion player Geoff Berner was travelling through Europe, Barlow got a lot of hits from that part of the world on her MySpace page.
It allows future fans to hear a bit of her music, and link to other bands with similar sounds.
“It’s one of the easiest ways to get out there,” said Barlow.
Since she started the page in May, it has received more than 9,500 hits from people around the world.
“It’s interesting to track where they’re coming from,” said Barlow.
“I’ve been checking out all kinds of artists on MySpace and your music is my favourite … I’m ordering your album in the mail, can’t wait,” coos one Barlow fan on her homepage.
“Your music has inspired me and kept me company on my hitchhiking over the past year,” writes another.
Caribou Records didn’t have the resources to release Barlow’s new album, so the local label hooked her up with a bigger record company in Vancouver, Jericho Beach Music.
For Barlow, that means a wider distribution and more radio play for Champ.
One of her favourite songs on the album is Great White Nothing, written from the perspective of a stubby willow tree on the Arctic tundra that watches the world go by.
It’s a pop tune with a touch of country twang that focuses on the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve.
It was inspired after seeing some “crazy clips” of George Bush at press conferences during the drilling in ANWR debate.
“He said, ‘You call it the great white north, I call it the great white nothing,’” said Barlow.
And that quote stuck with her for years.
“Thundering caribou are fine by me — better than a backhoe, better than an oil rig … the great mean clown said, ‘See it for yourself, the great white north or the great white nothing….”
Celebrate Barlow’s CD release with a concert at the Yukon Arts Centre on March 1. After that, she’ll tune up to tour around BC and Alberta in the spring.