Lesley Barth’s sophomore album “Big Time Baby” is the heartfelt and honest result of wrestling with a growing sense of feeling like an outsider in her own life. During the writing process, she questioned what she had learned her whole life about achievement being the key to happiness, quit her corporate job, and started to rebuild a sense of identity that didn’t require outside validation.
“It’s an album whose personal meaning to me has grown over time, and I think anyone who’s gone through major life transitions can relate to the incredibly uncomfortable period of figuring out you’ve outgrown your old life and trying to navigate the new one, while always learning to better love and forgive yourself.”
The title, “Big Time Baby,” is taken from the opening track, “Lower East Side,” where the chorus repeats “I’m not ready for the big time, baby.” The throwback tune that builds to a crescendo is a bold and disarming opener, with Barth immediately admitting to failure and a sense of unreadiness for the journey ahead. The tongue-in-cheek title sets the stage for a certain lack of pretentiousness and honesty: “making this album has been a rejection of the concept of ‘big time’ and ‘small time;’ living for other people’s validation is what got me into the whole mess of a life that felt foreign to me, so I wanted this album to be a declaration of who I am.”
The three singles, all tinged with a 70s songwriter groove and sparkle, off the album speak to various stages of the process of redefining her life. “Woman Looking Back at Me,” an almost Blondie-esque disco-flavored tune, seeks to understand negative self-talk and distance Barth from the critical voice in her head. The neon-cowboy-hued “Nashville,” tries to understand better the internal demons that keep us away from the lives we want, and the catchy and empowering “You Gotta Hand it to the Man” is an indictment of the ubiquity of a patriarchal society and capitalism gone awry, all with a feminine 70s pop sheen reminiscent of Jenny Lewis.
Though the album’s production brings in elements of Americana, pop, country, disco, folk, and even a stunning acoustic rendition (complete with lush strings) of her tearjerker about depression “Something Good,” the songwriting is always her own unique style – intelligent, curious, and surprising – and the production seems to operate exclusively in service to the song and it’s underlying lyrical meaning. “I was fortunate enough to work with a producer whom I really respected as a songwriter and artist, as well, Joe Michelini (of American Trappist, formerly River City Extension). We worked through a lot of pre-production together and I felt that going into the studio we were very tightly aligned on my vision for the album and it’s sound.” Barth’s tracks almost feel like a series of monologues, further driving home her examination around the performativity of life today.
It’s an album about feeling isolated, wearing masks, failing, rebuilding yourself, questioning societal norms, and the quicksand that is our modern non-stop notifications, performance-driven, social-media-optimized life. “What I learned through writing this album is that you can’t perform your life and live your life at the same time. There are – as a musician, of course, but also as a human being – moments where performing is what’s required. But if we don’t take the mask off from time to time and connect to who we really are, I can tell you from experience that one day you will wake up and not recognize who you are and the life you’ve built for yourself – in my case, very inadvertently, unintentionally, and suddenly. I hope this album gives people hope that, no matter how uncomfortable or out of place they feel in their life, they can change it by finding the courage to take off the mask and really get to know who they are underneath.”
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March 28 – Cape May, NJ: Singer Songwriter Cape May Festival, Iron Pier Craft House
May 31 – Woodstock, NY: Colony Woodstock
**more shows forthcoming**
“All songs by Lesley Barth (BMI)
Produced by Joe Michelini and Lesley Barth
Engineered by Joe Michelini at Berlin Studios
Mixed by Joe Michelini
Mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Music
Lead and backing vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, keyboards: Lesley Barth
Electric guitar, bass, and acoustic guitar on 4: Joe Michelini
Organ, piano on 5,6,7,9: Chuck Ramsey
Drums and percussion: Shane Luckenbaugh
Saxophone: Stephen Chen
Strings, Strings & String Arrangement on 10: Michael Hunter
Pedal Steel Guitar: Tim Campbell
Album Photography: Harish Pathak