First Listen: Jill & Matthew Barber Release ‘The Partisan’

By Greg Cahill

Find the cost of freedom . . . . When Canadian siblings Matthew and Jill Barber started working on The Family Album, their first album together and a project that’s been a lifetime in the making, they turned to several originals that Matt and Jill demo’d on an iPhone while on a family vacation, as well as covers of songs by Bobby Charles, Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt. But there was one more important song: “La Complainte du Partisan (The Partisan)” is a song about the French Resistance in World War II. It was written in 1943 in London by Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie and the music by Anna Marly.


The compelling song was popularized in the 1960s by Leonard Cohen and has been covered by everyone from Buffy Ste. Marie to 16 Horsepower to the Swell Season.

“We discovered the song “The Partisan” by way of Leonard Cohen who, in the late-’60s, re-worked this somewhat obscure second World War ballad about the French Resistance,” Jill Barber says. “The song, which Matt and I both find incredibly moving, is a first-person narrative about a man on the run, hiding in the shadows, losing his humanity, and persevering through his belief that ‘freedom soon will come.’ It’s a very emotional and heavy song to sing, and actually requires us to inhabit the character.

“In our interpretation, we try to paint a chilling picture of wind blowing through the graves of fallen comrades, and use instrumentation to convey a sense of resignation about the lives given up to the cause.  There’s also something about singing this song in harmony that I think lends it a very plaintive, almost ghostly quality that we find both sad and beautiful.”



Greg Cahill
Greg Cahill