There are some stories for Barnes that aren’t simply worth telling. At least not here.
Dave Barnes is a Nashville-based artist who is familiar to those who follow contemporary Christian rock. His sixth album and fourth for Razor & Tie, Stories to Tell, sees Barnes moving into somewhat more secular territory by recording for the first time in Los Angeles with producer John Fields, who has previously worked with none other than the Jonas Brothers. That’s notwithstanding the fact that this is the first album recorded with keyboard swells and syncopated percussion in great abundance. So, Stories to Tell is a very adult contemporary affair, the sort of thing that has ambition to be played on the Top 40 with its 11 songs usually hovering at that radio friendly three-minute mark. While the album is immaculately produced to a well-varnished sheen, and sounds like the lite pop that ruled the roost in the late ‘80s (think Amy Grant), Barnes is really little more than a Jack Johnson imitator with songs usually built around gently strummed acoustic guitar lines. In fact, Barnes puts the word soft in the soft rock genre, and whether or not this is your kind of thing is going to depend on whether or not you have to scoop the kids up in time for them to make their soccer practice.
For the rest of us, Stories to Tell is a kind of bland, cardboard-y type of record with the same cookie-cutter songs that aren’t really hooky or memorable, save for one song on the album. “Heaven Help Me” is a great stab at the sort of late ‘70s AM gold that Hall & Oates might have penned. However, that’s really it. The rest of the record runs into a kind of latter-period Phil Collins-esque lite rock territory. And being Christian, Barnes pumps his lyric sheet with references to things like sin and prayer – the word “forgiveness” is even (possibly over)used in the first two songs – though, thankfully, he doesn’t come out with his Bible swinging too heavily. However, Barnes begs, borrows and steals from pop culture: “Seventeen” even begins with the same girl-about-to-leave-town imagery used in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”. And, sometimes, Barnes winds up writing pop songs that sound like the sort of thing that Justin Bieber might sing. Not good. In the end, you want to give Barnes high marks for making what is utterly a pure pop album, but that conversely means that it is utterly disposable and forgettable. Perhaps, I suppose that means there are some stories for Barnes that aren’t simply worth telling. At least not here.