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A Drifter And A Preacher: Barney Bentall Bringing Wisdom And Worry-free Songwriting To Fredericton Playhouse

For Barney Bentall, there is no “secret” to crafting a great album.

“If you’re a writer, you probably have this idea of a ‘story’ you want to tell, and you set about to tell that story,” he says, calling from the western Canada ranch he now calls home. “But as a songwriter, for me, I just start writing songs…I just write songs, and I go through periods where I’m writing a lot, where I’m not writing so much, and after a certain period, they just start to form a gang.”

It’s a process that allows the singer-songwriter—a veteran of the music business since the late 80s, when he and his band, the Legendary Hearts, scored big with such hits as “Something To Live For”—to work at his own pace: write what he wants, when he wants.

“At this point in life, you stop worrying about certain stuff. I don’t expect to have ‘hits’ again. All I can do is go out and play live, which people still seem to enjoy. I don’t worry about things nearly as much as I used to, which is very freeing. It’s a freeing feeling, and it allows you to just write. Write about whatever you wanna write about.”

The process has certainly yielded an excellent new record, The Drifter & The Preacher. Released late last fall, the 11-track album is chock-full of fully-fleshed, folk-leaning songs—not “music” so much as capital-s “Songs”—whose various highlights, including “Moon At The Door” and “Won’t Change The World,” reveal a deep dedication to the art and craft of songwriting.

“It’s a very organic process, and at the end of the day, something just strikes me that’s worth pursuing in more depth. Something that intrigues me. It doesn’t have to be this grand sort of thing…It can be a little circumstance you saw, or somebody you know that touched you. We’re by nature extrapolators. Maybe something happened in your relationship, and you take elements of that, and you add to it, and it becomes worthy of a song or a story, and it becomes something you can sing, something you can really sink your teeth into.”

In conversation and throughout the record, Bentall reveals a deep wisdom honed over a lifetime of searching. Indeed, as the album’s title suggests, it’s a wisdom arising from the spaces in-between drifting and preaching. I ask Bentall about the source of the laid-back calm he seems to have come to earn, and how one might achieve it.

“Keep open to what’s around you,” he says, after a moment of reflection. “Don’t start closing yourself off to new ideas or new people. I see people in their 60s who just close down. You have to stay open to the world…There comes a time where it all sort of makes sense, even the chaos. As you get older, if you stay open, you see things in a nice light, in a positive light, and it helps you navigate this world that feels a bit dark these days, and you can feel positive in your direction and in your relationships.”

Such philosophical nuggets may be on full display as the veteran hits the road for a cross-Canada trek alongside fellow Canadian music biz veteran Jim Cuddy, making a stop at the Fredericton Playhouse on Feb. 11. The multidate tour, featuring special guests Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley, sons of the Blue Rodeo co-frontman, offers an all-ages celebration that Bentall feels is one of the show’s biggest attractions.

“It’s kind of a multi-generational traveling road show. I think it’s gonna be the interplay between the generations that a lot of this is going to be about. And maybe, if we’re on our game, the old guys can dish out a piece of wisdom or two,” he says with a laugh.

Barney Bentall and Jim Cuddy, alongside special guests Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley, will take the stage at the Fredericton Playhouse on Feb. 11 at 8 p.m.

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