By Helen Jerome
Anyone who loves the layered storytelling of John Prine and Nanci Griffith or novelists like Anne Tyler will immediately warm to Homemaker.
Anyone who loves the layered storytelling of John Prine and Nanci Griffith or novelists like Anne Tyler will immediately warm to Homemaker, the latest album from Canadian Jill Barber.
Here, she’s standing her ground and standing up for underappreciated parents, making “an intentional pushback against the worn-out notion of what it means to be ‘just a homemaker’.”
It’s the first time Barber has produced an album of her own, sharing duties with bassist Erik Nielsen and using a handful of top Vancouver musicians to give the stripped-back record its warmth. It allows her unique voice to stealthily get under your skin, the frequently autobiographical lyrics immersing you in her everyday life.
The core of this ‘almost-concept’ album comes in a handful of well-chosen songs. The title track is Barber’s rallying cry to parents who feel there’s no escape, hinting at their exhausted frustration: “Couple of kids to raise / Never get any praise / Just a sideways glance.” Alongside this, ‘Woman of My Own Dreams’ compares her fate with what she’d always dreamed for herself - wanting a family and a career - and how she won’t give up on it.
There’s more domesticity on the simple duet ‘Joint Account’, a soft, compelling look at a young couple binding their fates together in marriage, even though they “may not know where we’re bound”. Neatly, the album closes with the wistful ‘Still in Love’, where we find the same couple even more committed to each other than before, perhaps because of the twists and setbacks that met them along the way.
Cleverly, Barber also juxtaposes songs that look backwards and forwards at the mother-daughter relationship. ‘My Mother’s Hand’ is a gentle, focused tribute to her eternally supportive mum. Hard on its heels, ‘Big Eyes’ is one for her own daughter; in hoping that she lives up to her expectations, she realises that one day she’ll have to let her go, just as her own mother did with her: “Sometimes I wish that she could stay my little shadow / But I never wanna block her light”.
Overall, Barber is exploring the pressures of modern life. ‘Hell No’ is subtly reminiscent of Shania Twain’s anthem ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’, with its own feminist chorus: “I say hell no to twice the work and half the pay / I say hell no, it’s time I get my own damn say”.
She’s revolting against the patriarchy, and on ‘Instant Cash for Gold’, her pushback is against the way that fellow creatives are undervalued, evoking the tawdry pawnshops luring desperate characters inside. On ‘Beautiful Life’, she holds up a mirror to 21st Century vanity, contrasting the emptiness of social media influencers and asserting “It’s the scars that make us / There’s beauty in the chaos of how we really live”
If you want a message to take away from this buoyant album, the penultimate track, ‘Helium’, is quite literally that pick-me-up. Couched in a soft-rock arrangement, Jill Barber imagines all her setbacks and problems as balloons that you can let go of; with Homemaker, she does just that.
7.5 / 10.
Jill Barber's 2023 album, Homemaker, is released on February 10th via Outside Music. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below:
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