Honesty in music making is, in my opinion, almost the art’s most important facet. If you’re not honest with yourself while you’re creating, your ideas won’t ever reach their fullest potential. If you’re not honest with your audience while you’re performing, there’s much less chance your audience will be as affected by your art as what you once intended.
Tom Barton is an honest musician. Care, diligence and love for his product pours out of the speakers and onto the intricately illustrated pages of his record’s liner notes. Having graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor of Music Performance (Honours) in Jazz Improvisation, in 2013 he was invited to study a Master of Jazz (Voice) at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. So an honest musician, yes, but also a fiercely talented one.
The aptly titled debut offering from Barton is Aspirations. Crowdfunded, and with a great deal of momentum behind its conception, it’s a ten-track jazz, prose, and electronics-infused gem of an LP showcasing Barton’s immense vocal and instrumental creativity.
With a range of talents as broad as Barton’s, there was every possibility this record could have been delivered as a mish-mash of ideas and poorly acquainted genres. Not likely; that would have been the output of a lesser musician. This is an album that sees Barton rally together every creative tool at his disposal, crafting a beautifully nuanced, varied, and soulful vision. Aspirations is somewhat of a concept album in this sense, the result of a great deal of time, consideration, and theoretical input.
The vocal lines of opening track Dirt & Vibration have a distinct, old-school R&B feel with Barton’s clean, crisp tenor anticipating every phrase. It’s moreish. Rays of Björk shine out from each chorus; there’s a distinct Biophillia sensibility here, but it’s instantly more accessible for whatever reason that might be.
What will undoubtedly be the pull-track for many of the Barton uninitiated is the cover of Björk’s Hyperballad. Never giving in to the old ‘thisisacoverbutitwillsoundsprettymuchthesame’ mentality that thwarts many an artist’s attempt at others’ work, it’s a sensitive and colorful rendition, and one that deserves its place on such a special record.
There are certainly tracks which act as a window into Barton’s deep understanding of jazz techniques and repertoire. Vessel is a cruisy, ambling number featuring an ingenious reversed snare drum sample that stretches and arches its back throughout. It’s the jewel in the crown, but never overdone. And this is where Barton’s voice really takes off: there can be no doubt that it’s remarkably suited to jazz.
Spencer the Rover stirs up a host of wonderful memories in an instant. Long, warm days spent sinking into the earth at Port Fairy Folk Festival. Happy Easter weekends with friends in Canberra listening to the world’s top folk artists strut their stuff to the most receptive of audiences. In this number, Barton’s effortless vocals elicit unmistakable shades of Lior-esque purity. It’s a very special, cucumber-on-the-eyes type of refreshing.
Nonetheless, since hearing this record for the first time, track eight Tenchi has remained a personal favourite. Inspired by the Japanese martial art of Aikido, it combines the crème of Barton’s talents into seven-and-a-half minutes of bliss. There’s really not much more to say.
Aspirations is an album that references a remarkable number of styles, and it’s an album that requires active listening. It’s work that demands your attention, but in the most unassuming, refreshing manner possible. Barton’s mastery and marrying of so many genres really is a gift to behold. Not very often do artists these days succeed in carrying off a concoction like this, usually for the fear – and fact – that it won’t do well on the uptake. In my opinion, this album will, because it’s nothing less than a unique and honest account of Tom Barton’s incredible set of skills. As an audience, that’s the best, and most rewarding thing we can hope for.