Jill Barber has shifted gears a little bit on her new album, Chances (Outside Music), from folk songstress to jazz chanteuse, singing sultry, romantic tunes that would fit easily in the set of a lounge singer in the 1940s or ‘50s. It’s not a great leap for the Ontario native, who developed her career in Halifax, releasing a few award-winning records before a recent move to Vancouver, B.C.
“I think that I have been leaning that way and there have been hints of heading in that direction,” the Juno nominee and ECMA award winner says. “But I don’t feel that I’ve moved away from the folk thing, I think I’ve moved more towards where my strengths lie.
“I‘ve dabbled in a few different styles, and you know, I’m a singer-songwriter, I will always be a singer-songwriter. I think I still identify as folky in that I still write all these songs on the acoustic guitar, it’s just that we’ve sort of decorated them a little bit more.”
Barber worked once again with musician/producer Les Cooper, who also produced her 2006 record For All Time (Outside). While that album played to Barber’s folk and country leanings, Chances leans toward her jazzier side.
“(Les) and I have been kind of following a similar path,” she says. “When we made For All Time, we were both really getting into the old traditional country, we were kind of going through an old country phase, and I think you can hear that a little bit on that album.
“We sidestepped, I think, on this album. When you go back far enough, old traditional country and jazz kind of meet somewhere maybe in the ‘40s or ‘50s or ‘60s. When you look at someone like Patsy Cline, it’s jazz, but it’s country. We kind of sidestepped from country and looked to where that sort of met with jazz, if that makes any sense.”
Barber can’t pinpoint the time she fell in love with old jazz standards. She recalls purchasing an old record player in an antique shop a few years ago, and she began picking up old records in junk shops, which led her to discovering some pretty obscure material.
”I kind of had access to all this old music that a lot of people had left in their basements or thrown away,” she says. “I guess I fell in love with how that music made me feel, which is really dreamy and romantic and kind of like, ‘life is beautiful.’
“Whether or not this is true, it seemed to speak of a simpler time or something. There was a certain quality of love and romance that I don’t think you find in modern music. There was that sort of timeless quality that I try to emulate with this album.”
She nearly wound up recording some of those old classics for this record. Chances was nearly a covers album, as Barber had been considering a collection of covers of her favourite old songs before she eventually decided to write originals.
“I’ve been wanting to make a record like this for a long time. But the singer-songwriter in me … it didn’t sit right. I kind of instead tried to challenge myself to try and write an album that could stand beside those sort of classic old standards, but that is new music, that’s contributing new music.”
Three of the album’s 10 songs, the title track, “Old Flame” and “One More Time,” were written with renowned singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, whom Barber has toured with extensively.
She says writing with Sexsmith makes her worker harder on her material. It helps that they both come from similar places in music, but she says where she can reference many old songs, Sexsmith can sit at a piano and play them start to finish.
“He’s a musical encyclopedia,” she says.
From Banff to Toronto, Chances was recorded at Blue Rodeo’s Woodshed Studios and at the famed Glenn Gould Studio. In addition to Sexsmith, the Good Lovelies, The Sojourners also appear on the record providing beautiful backing vocals.
Barber, Cooper and the other musicians spent six months working on Chances, which was released just last week. Barber, who says she is a pretty sensitive person, always finds herself a little anxious before the release of an album, curious what the feedback will be.
“It’s an anxious time for sure,” she admits. “It’s an exciting time too, though. There’s a whole bunch of emotions. I wouldn’t know, but it’s probably not unlike bringing a child into the world.
“For six months I have total control over this thing. It’s my project and I put everything I have into the project, my heart and soul, and it’s the world that I control. The day it gets released is the day I give up control. I’ve taken it as far as I can possibly take it. The rest isn’t up to me.
“So, it’s an anxious time, to see how my little album makes out on its own in the world.”
Barber has several dates lined up on the East Coast, beginning with a songwriter’s circle tonight at Sackville United Church in Sackville, N.B. She’ll be touring the East Coast for the next few weeks before heading out west again. Check out her website for all the details.
In December, Barber will be heading to Australia where For All Time has just been released. She’ll be playing festivals and opening for Hawksley Workman on his tour.
While she’s living on the opposite coast these days, Barber says she still keeps Atlantic Canada close to her heart.
“Oh yeah, yeah, especially this time of year, which is my favourite time of year in the Maritimes. It’s pretty hard to beat. Halifax is a city that’s very close to my heart.
“But I’m kind of enjoying the change. It’s just sort of a change of scenery. But I’m still on the road as much as ever, or I will be, and I get to go back to the Maritimes in the next couple of weeks. I feel like I’m getting the full country perspective being out here.”