There was something appropriate about Barney Bentall appearing at a recent four-night ‘The Way We Feel’ tribute to Gordon Lightfoot staged January 10-13 at Toronto’s Hugh’s Room. No question that Lightfoot is a luminary when it comes to classic story-telling compositions but Bentall himself is no slouch when it comes to composing lyrical vignettes.
It’s also appropriate that Bentall’s last three solo albums were released on True North Records, also home to fellow storytellers such as Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan, Dan Hill and Buffy Ste Marie. Even going back to his first hit, the 1988 “Something To Live For”, with his support band, The Legendary Hearts, which earned them a 1989 Juno as the year’s Most Promising Group, there has always been a story element about Bentall’s songwriting. It’s an element that his strongly evident with his latest opus, the highly personal ‘The Drifter And The Preacher’ released to great critical reviews in 2017.
“It’s been a great four nights, Gordon (Lightfoot) himself came the first night and he’s coming again tonight (Saturday) so you can imagine the pressure performing songs in front of the guy who originally recorded them,” enthused Bentall, “It’s the 15th year this tribute has been staged, totally sold out and we have some great performers; (The Good Brothers, Matt Barber, Kevin Fox, Lori Cullen, Jory Nash, Michelle Willis, The Young Novelists) and a great house band. Some artists paid homage to him by performing his songs as they were originally recorded but other performers added unique twists to their presentations.”
Bentall is flattered but appreciative when it is suggested that his songwriting skills draw favourable comparisons to the likes of Cockburn, McLauchlan and Hill and his career seems to be back on track with the release of his latest album ‘The Drifter And The Preacher.’ “I grew up idolizing those people. I was managed by True North’s Bernie Finklestein and got to write with Bruce and Murray. That was a big thrill for me.”
Bentall and his Caribou Express band raised $4.7million for various charities during a Fall 2018 tour of Alberta and British Columbia and he will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his Barney Bentall & The Legendary Hearts self-titled debut with a four-date tour of Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria in March 2019. Bentall will then join forces with Colin James for two more March dates in Kamloops and Prince George.
“I’m not big on nostalgia, I’m always looking ahead rather than backwards but we will play some of our old stuff and it’s always great reuniting with the Legendary Hearts, we always have a great time when we get together,”
Since returning to the studio and hitting the road in 2006 (he has recorded five solo albums and two with Shari Ulrich and Tommy Taylor) following a brief retirement stint as a rancher in B.C’s Cariboo district, Bentall has come to terms with the current social media aspects of the recording industry although he does miss the regimental aspects of being supported by a major record label (in his case, CBS/Columbia).
“When I got my SOCAN classic awards for 100,000 radio airplay, those songs helped with the elements of my family. They put my kids through school,” Bentall reminisced. “But 100,000 plays on Spotify, what does that do? There are profits being made somewhere but the creators are having difficulty making money unless people know your name and you can play live. I hear from a lot of musicians and songwriters who are very discouraged.”