With Kim Barlow’s recent departure from the Yukon, the local music scene appeared to have lost its most well-known singer-songwriter. However, Blue Hibou, Barlow’s collaboration with Hélène Beaulieu and Micah Smith, suggests that we may not know her as well as we thought.
Blue Hibou began in 2010 after Beaulieu, a classically-trained guitarist, started taking banjo lessons from Barlow.
Beaulieu remembers, “A year later she called me and said she was writing a guitar duo and asked would I like to play with her,” Beaulieu remembers.
With Smith filling in the low end, Blue Hibou and its self-titled CD were born.
While quirky folk songs like “Washed Out Road” and “Grow for Me” seem like typical Barlow fare (the first is from the point of view of a transport truck stranded in Watson Lake while the Alaska Highway is being repaired, the second is sung to a tomato), it’s the instrumentals that stand out.
Of this new direction, Beaulieu says, “We both have a classical guitar background. The first thing that we did together was a bunch of instrumental pieces that Kim wrote. But every show we do, we like doing more instrumentals. We were doing some classical pieces as well.”
Those classical pieces include Igor Stravinsky’s “Les Cinq Doigts (Moderato)”, Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne #3” and Christian Philipp Emanuel Bach’s “Polonesa”, stripped down to arrangements for guitars, keyboards and percussion.
Barlow’s instrumental compositions blur genres further. “Sod Farmer” could have been either a baroque classical piece or a folk song, but with its melodica, keys, heavy percussion and bass, it rocks. “Drop D #2” adds jazz drums and piano to a guitar/banjo duet.
Beaulieu contributes three songs in French, showing herself as an accomplished soprano chanteuse. The songs are light as well: “Ciré jaune” is a simple love song on ukulele, focusing on a yellow raincoat, while “Citron vert” attempts to link as many -ert rhymes as possible.
“Haïkus d’hiver” is a song begun by Beaulieu and completed with help from some poems by her husband, Stéphan Ruest.
Facing a songwriting challenge and left short by one song, Beaulieu used Ruest’s haikus to complete it. With a slightly Japanese flavour, the song matches Beaulieu’s voice with a heavier electric guitar.
Recorded in Toronto, the album features not only Barlow, Beaulieu and Smith, but also several Toronto musicians: Ryan Driver on piano, flute, organ, keyboard and melodica; Blake Howard on drums; Martin Arnold also on melodic; and Brodie West on saxophone.
These additional musicians add to the guitar duets, creating a lighter, heavier and fuller expression, all at the same time.
Despite living on opposite sides of Canada, Barlow and Beaulieu intend to continue the collaboration. In May, Blue Hibou will do a mini-tour of Kingston, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, with Driver and guest guitarist Justin Haynes.
Since Barlow is a new mother of twins, longer term plans are up in the air.
“We may be doing more shows in the fall. And maybe some festivals, like Frostbite, if they can bring Kim back to the Yukon,” Beaulieu adds.
Outstanding Tracks: “Sod Farmer” and “Haïkus d’hiver”.
Barry “Jack” Jenkins keeps close tabs on the Yukon music scene. If you are producing a Yukon CD, please contact him at [email protected]