Songs That Hit Close To Home


Amongst the early-afternoon rush, at a local coffee shop, Barbara Chamberlin stands out as she pushes through the door clad in a long, bright-red coat. She glances around the café, feverishly, then spots me and promptly beelines to the table.

She admits that the past number of weeks have been a whirlwind. Apart from leading the Whitehorse Community Choir, offering private vocal lessons and running a bed and breakfast, out of Riverdale, Chamberlin is set to release her third full-length album, Of Ice and Men.

“It’s been a four-year project, both in terms of recording and writing the songs. And I had written some love songs … you know, four years, that’s two boyfriends,” she says facetiously, bursting into laughter.

The charismatic singer-songwriter jokingly mutters, “Don’t put that in there,” once she’s curbed her enthusiasm.

Almost immediately, her laptop hits the tabletop and she’s clicking through her press photos. The dark-haired artist is seen lounging across a bar, playfully clutching a fur coat and beaming from ear to ear.

Next, she pulls up the album’s cover art. It features a moose, a bear and even Chamberlin’s own likeness drawn in Chris Caldwell’s familiar cartoon style. The artwork is set in a winter scene at an old log cabin, which connects directly with the album’s entire focus.

“This record is a bit more of a fun one that deals with the Yukon. It’s Yukon characters, Yukon experiences; love songs in the Yukon. People will recognize some of these characters.

“They do exist because they’re written about real people and personal experiences,” she explains.

One track in particular is titled Buckshot Betty. As you might have guessed, it tells the story of the famous Betty who owns the bakery in Beaver Creek. From there, the dozen songs include everything from tales of moose camp, to lyrics about a friend’s dog and the perfect “outdoor” man.

Chamberlin says the style steps back to the days of the band, Wynona-Sue and the Turnpikes.

“It was a tongue-in-cheek group that I did about 12 years ago and is all tongue-in-cheek songs about country. And there’s a part of me that really likes that sort of fun stuff, so it’s kind of a throwback.

“I’ll get all the fun stuff out of me and the next one will be really serious. No … I don’t know,” she says with another boisterous laugh.

Of Ice and Men drips with pop-infused lyrics, yet a touch of blues. Some tracks also slow it down a bit and others hint on the side of country. Chamberlin admits she struggles with sticking to a genre.

“My big influence lately is the blues. And so this is a very blues-oriented album – funky blues is what I like to call it. But we all are what we are, and I hate the categories, anyway,” she explains.

“I like doing all the different styles – I like doing reggae, I like doing my folk, singer-songwriter stuff and I like doing the blues and several others. To me, the fun in songwriting isn’t trying to do the song so it will sell, but more on the side of ‘let’s have fun’ and find out where this song goes.”

Putting the album together was a collaborative effort with other artists and spanned studios in Whitehorse, Vancouver and her hometown of Portland, Oregon. To celebrate the album’s release, Chamberlin is bringing up four musicians from Portland to support her on a mini tour of the territory.

Plus, there’ll be some familiar locals joining her onstage for her Yukon Arts Centre performance on Saturday, Sept. 19. The list includes Lonnie Powell, Lauren Tuck, Jon Heaton, Nicole Edwards, the Suzuki Senior Strings and the Community Choir as well as Ivan Zenovitch and Manfred Janssen, who both have songwriting credits on the album.

And while it’s obvious that Chamberlin has toiled away at this project, she says teaching and her own musical education are her first passion.

“I think one of the gifts from the choir was getting back in to educating myself. I didn’t realize how fun it was because in college you get bogged down with the idea that it’s homework.

“I’m studying what I want to study now, and it re-energizes me,” she says of courses she took in Oregon and of her enrollment in the Yukon Summer Music Camp this past July.

However, her recording career isn’t a distant second passion – seeing as Chamberlin says she’s already applying and planning for a summer of music festival performances next year. Not to mention she already has two tracks in the bag for a future release.

The CD release for Barbara Chamberlin’s new album, Of Ice and Men, is at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sept. 19 with a mini tour to follow.

See next week’s What’s Up Yukon for a review of this CD.

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