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Michael Barrett

Couches and Carpet

(Planting Seeds)

With the Essex Green, Michael Barrett plays 1960-ish pop-rock with both a giddy sense of playfulness and a laid-back, “let’s all just have a good time” demeanor. With the Sixth Great Lake, he does the same, but with in a more rustic, countryside setting, with musical reference points more in the folk-country world. In both cases, he’s part of a collective of like-minded artists, with each contributing their own ideas and songs. Couches and Carpet is a solo Michael Barrett album, yet its feeling is quite similar to everything else he’s engaged in. If the great album the Sixth Great Lake released earlier this year (Up the Country) on Kindercore felt like a bunch of friends hanging out in the country and messing around with music, Couches and Carpet sounds like one guy hanging out around the house and doing the same, with friends stopping by and helping out along the way.

“Watching my days go by in ways I never thought I’d ever know”, Barrett sings as the album starts, echoing the perspective much of the album shares, that of someone sitting back and contemplating the world in a relaxed way. Mellow is the word here, but that mellowness seems to reflect more a comfort with creation and with life than any type of boredom or seriousness. A song like “Yesterday and Today” especially reflects the fact that Barrett isn’t taking himself too seriously. That song contrasts big city and small-town life through things like how people in restaurants react when you ask to use their restroom.

Small-town living seems to show up in everything Barrett does, but it’s less a prop or setpiece than a setting that represents peace of mind, feeling happy with where you are in your life. “Chill Out” is a bouncy message song of sorts, encouraging everyone to go out into the hills or the woods and find their own sense of calm. Elsewhere on the album comfort is found within a less rural environment, as on “The Gate”, where he describes a basement in Brooklyn as the one place in that city that makes him feel at ease. Even when that theme isn’t expressed in the lyrics, it’s in the music, in how the melodies are delivered and how the notes are played. Acoustic and electric guitars are strummed in an easygoing, pretty way, and other instruments and the voices of his friends come in at just the right times. Everything has a quiet confidence about it that makes each song as much a place of solace as the places Barrett sings of. Couches and carpet can mark places to relax and chill out. The album Couches and Carpet provides the perfect soundtrack to just hanging out and living peacefully, no matter what sort of environment you consider home.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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