Scotia born Jill Barber played for the first time at the Montreal
International Jazz Festival
in July of 2009. In response to demand, she’s been invited
back to perform once again at the Astral, Feb. 3rd. Adrian Mack,
wowed by her performance, talked to the singer about her concert
and latest CD, Chances.
Barber’s gift for creating the perfect mood in the right
setting even extends to the location. Her East Coast Music Award
-- winning 2006 debut album, For All Time, sounds perfect
here thanks to its quilted folk, country, and acoustic-jazz influences.
But Barber’s follow-up, Chances -- released October
2008 -- is a different thing entirely. The now transplanted Easterner,
who relocated to Vancouver in September of last year, allowed
herself to indulge in the kinds of sounds that shimmered out of
L.A.’s Cocoanut Grove in the early ’50s for her second
Chances Barber says she wanted to create "new standards,"
meaning that she was aiming for no less than the Great American
Songbook when she started penning the album early last year, invoking
the likes of songwriters Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen and Johnny
Mercer for inspiration."Because
as much as I love a lot of the jazz vocalists that are performing
the old standards today, at some point somebody’s going
to have to write some new songs," she explains. "So
I took it upon myself, ambitiously, to try to write some songs
that could stand alongside those old jazz standards and work."
there’s nothing like challenging yourself. Besides the audacious
reach of Barber’s vision, what’s remarkable about
Chances is that it’s so obviously within her grasp.
From the plucked strings and lush harp glissandos of the title
track, to the western-swing-meets-Andrew-Sisters quick-step of
"Leaving You," and the spine-tingling orchestrations
that lift "Take It Off Your Mind" and "Never Quit
Loving You,” it’s as if Barber and producer-arranger
Les Cooper had consulted with the ghost of Nelson Riddle. In total,
and across ten faultless tracks, the singer-songwriter has delivered
a set that might well have made its way to Peggy Lee or Julie
London in the last century.
diminish her own unique instrument, of course -- Barber’s
tremulous kitty-kat purr is the icing on Chances. But
in this case, perhaps the highest compliment Barber has received
for an album that’s been universally praised is the mistaken
impression that she didn’t write it.
can’t tell you how many times people have thought that I
released a covers album," she says with a smile. "And
I like the idea that people hear the songs and can’t quite
place where they’re from. I hear it from members of the
audience a lot, that songs I’ve written that they’ve
never heard feel familiar somehow. Which leads me to believe that
I’ve either ripped off a song unwittingly, or I’ve
written a song that instantly feels timeless to them."
a chuckle, she confirms, "The latter is what I’m striving
found sympathetic company with her collaborators on Chances.
Vancouver’s gospel trio the Sojourners first inspired, and
then ended up performing on, "Oh My My," which started
life as an a cappella spiritual until Barber and producer Cooper
gave it a sizzling, swing-time percussion arrangement.
her for a co-write on three tracks is her friend Ron Sexsmith,
who put aside his own idiosyncrasies as a writer for Barber’s
classicism. "He was the perfect guy to ask," she says,
"because of anybody, he gets old music. He has an encyclopedic
knowledge of old music and singers and old songs."
is of course some danger in looking backwards as enthusiastically
as Barber and her partners do with Chances, no matter
how brilliantly rendered it is. She recognizes what she calls
"a fine line between kitsch and class," but pleads for
the honesty of the work.
do think I’ve arrived at what I do best," she offers.
"I tapped into my own voice and my own abilities as a songwriter
and really figured out what kind of artist I wanted to be. Whereas
with my last record, I was experimenting a bit more. Figuring
it out. I mean, I’m still figuring it out, but I’m
closer. Getting closer all the time."
all that is what Barber suggests is a drive to secure her own
legacy. Which isn’t hard to understand in a world that feels
a pretty modern person, but what I love about old music is that
it’s stood the test of time," she says, "and I’m
fascinated by art that stands the test of time. I can tell you
whatever pop music you hear on the radio today we won’t
care about tomorrow, and I don’t want my music to fall into
that vortex of ‘the current.’ I’ve never been
very good at writing a pop song. Cutting edge doesn’t come
very naturally to me."