Living in separate provinces was no obstacle for two award-winning performers determined to record an album that showcases their love of the west.
Black Diamond cowboy poet Doris Daley and Saskatchewan singer/songwriter Eli Barsi share their passion for the rugged prairies and foothills in the collaborative album Once Upon the West, which debuted in the United States in January and will be unveiled at a concert in the Turner Valley Legion April 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Once Upon the West features poetry and original music that tells stories of the west as seen through the eyes of Daley, an Alberta rancher’s daughter, and Barsi, a Saskatchewan prairie girl.
“We feel like we have packaged up a really nice flow of content and emotional values and we’ve hit on a lot of things about the west that we loved like being a good neighbor, western friendships, putting on your lipstick and going to events, the rigours of ranch life – just things that resonated with us,” said Daley last week. “We are so proud of this album.”
The two ladies met 20 years ago at a festival in Stony Plain. They crossed paths at various concerts and festivals and one day Barsi suggested the two collaborate their poetry and music to create their own show.
For Daley, it was a foreign concept.
“Until I met Eli I worked entirely solo – me and a piece of paper sweating through each line,” she said. “My writing life was a solitary life. I didn’t know how songwriting worked with two people in the same room. I didn’t know what collaboration even looked like. I figured I had a pretty good system all on my own.”
While it’s a team effort, Daley said most of the work is done in their respective provinces.
“There’s very few times we have physically been in the same room,” she said. “That gave each of us the freedom to present to the other person.”
The process typically begins with words, often Daley’s poetry, followed by Barsi writing the music.
“We can massage the essence of a poem by adding music or she will shoot me an email and say, ‘I’ve got a strong title can you take a stab at writing a draft at lyrics,’” said Daley. “More often she will hear the words of something I’ve written first.”
The friendship easily blossomed into a working relationship that came naturally to both performers.
“What’s really fun for us is to go on stage together and collaborate in some creative way right in front of the audience’s eyes,” said Daley. “We listen to what the other is saying and go, this is a good poem in response to that’ or ‘This triggers that song.’ We have chemistry on stage and we have a wonderful friendship off stage as well.”
For instance, for Daley’s signature poem Once Upon the West, it didn’t take long for Barsi to create the melody and arrangement.
“She’s got that much of a musical genius,” said Daley. “We love our pioneers, we love our small towns. Neither of us are dazzled by bright and shiny things. We just stay true to our roots.”
It was last summer that Barsi suggested the two collaborate on an album. It seemed like a natural next step in their musical relationship.
“We have performed together so many times at cowboy festivals and gatherings throughout Canada and the U.S.,” Barsi said. “We’ve written a lot of material together. We intertwine poems and songs and tell a story as we go.”
Barsi said it helps that they share the same passions in life.
“We are both very western in our writing and we wanted to keep that theme going,” she said.
When Barsi met Daley, she admits that she was impressed.
“I was just blown away by her work, her delivery and her stage presence,” said Barsi. “She really is one of the best and strongest cowboy poets in North America. Whenever I saw her on the list I was always excited. I knew that sitting down and listening to her was going to be very entertaining.”
Having a lot in common also helps form a strong relationship musically.
“We have the same kind of background and a love of the west and the importance to preserve that lifestyle and keep it alive with our poetry and songs,” said Barsi. “That connects us in many ways.”
When it comes to working together, even remotely, it just works for the duo.
“It’s a real pleasure and a joy to sit in a room and write with Doris, but we rarely have time to do that,” she said. “We very independently do our own thing. Doris writes lyrics, then sends it to me and says, ‘What do you think of this.’ Some of the stuff I get ideas immediately, some things I sit on.”
Tickets to attend this weekend’s event costs $25 in advance and $30 at the door.
They can be purchased at the legion, Sheep River Library, Bohemia in Black Diamond, online at www.elibarsi.com or by calling 403-862-8965.