Jill Barber is an acclaimed musician and songwriter who has traveled the world sharing her thoughts. Yet she still finds the time to act as a homemaker to her children, husband, parents, and friends. Though her mother was a homemaker in the traditional sense of the word, Barber wrote “Homemaker” to celebrate all the people who care for others.
“What I want to do is celebrate the work that goes unseen, the invisible work that you’re not getting paid for but is deeply valuable for society,” Barber said.
The title track “Homemaker” is tender and deeply empathetic. Barber realizes how difficult it is to do the work involved in running a home, whether that means doing the dishes or instilling values in her children. She’s gained a new appreciation of what her mother did for her.
“As a kid, I thought of my dad as the one who worked and my mom was just at home,” Barber said. “But my mom did all the heavy lifting raising us two kids.”
Homemaker is a job that Barber had to on a more full-time basis during the pandemic with her concerts cancelled and her children constantly at home. It wasn’t easy.
“There were days when I would scream into a pillow at the top of my lungs just to have a release,” Barber admitted. “And I’m sure I’m not the only one out there.”
Two of the most powerful tracks on the album, “My Mother’s Hand” and “Big Eyes” delve into the mother/child relationship in a way that show’s Barber’s deep reverence for the bond. “Big Eyes” is particularly effecting when she mentions her wish that her children always look at her the way they do now, a wish that’s completely understandable but hardly realistic as the kids enter their teenage years.
“I think they look to me like I’m their home base,” Barber said. “They always return to Mom because I’m a safe place for them. Although now that they’re getting older, part of their job is to break away from us.”
Barber’s investment in her role as a homemaker translates to great songwriting material. Her desire to set a good example for her children led to thoughtful songs both about them and for them, such as the cheery “Helium,” the one song on the album that may work better for a younger audience.
“Beautiful Life” describes the “major double-edged sword” that Barber considers social media to be and her embrace her messy but beautiful real life. She finds herself bothered by the distortions and curations that social media tends to pressure people to put forward, even admitting that it’s something she does on her professional account. As a parent, she worries about her kids logging on one day.
“I’m worried about all of us,” Barber said. “I think we all have to get literate and wise to it. It can be very deceptive, comparing yourself to the people you see. I’m not one of those people who quits it or says we can’t do it, but I think we need to teach our kids how to use it.”
“Instant Cash for Gold” is a brilliant lead to the album that ruminates on dying dreams. It speaks to Barber’s determination surrounding her music career even though there’s disillusionment that doesn’t gel with other parts of the album. Barber seems unlikely to ever trade her dreams in at a pawn shop as evidenced by “Helium” and the powerful “Woman of My Own Dreams.”
In terms of pure melodic magic, “Joint Account” featuring Slow Leaves shines brightest. It’s tender, hopeful, and, much like a lot of this album, demonstrates a healthy relationship beautifully.
Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Jill Barber and the songs we discussed, starting with “Beautiful Life,” which both talks about social media and is shared on a social media platform. The interview begins afterward. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit http://www.WUSB.fm and https://www.jillbarber.com for more.