Fri, Feb 8, 2013.
It's been several years now since Jill Barber left Halifax for Vancouver, but hey, we still think of her as a Maritimer, an honarary one at least. Hence her inclusion today in our East Coast music run-down. After all, Barber's star rose here first, and helped bring much new attention to the region. Plus, she was the first of several young female singers to break through from the Halifax scene, including Jenn Grant, Christina Martin, Amelia Curran and Meaghan Smith.
Lots of English Maritimers learn to speak French here, with all the Acadian influence around. But last year, instead of increasing her skills by taking an immersion course, Barber actually went to France for several weeks. It wasn't just for a bilingual upgrade; she was also learning to sing the language, with the plan in place for this album. Chansons sees Barber fully immersed in the grand catalogue of popular song from 20th century France. Much is made of the Great American Songbook of the same years, from the legendary composers: Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Arlen, Rodgers, Porter. These standards are sung by new generations still, even Canadians Diana Krall, Michael Buble and Holly Cole. But Barber had a different plan, to instead present the works of Gainsbourg, Aznavour, and more, the writers and singers responsible for some of the great love songs of the era, and that breezy, romantic sound of gay Paris. And, in the original language, rather than the translations that have made their way across the ocean.
Barber has been closing in on highly romantic music over her career, and in some ways, this is the culmination of that search. After all, both French and music are referred to as the language of love. She has been honing her vocal talents, each album finding her more powerful, not in volume but in emotion. Edith Piaf would be the best-known of the singers she's following, but this collection is more about the sound and the songs. Barber just has it, completely. The accent, the tone, the subtleties are all here. If it weren't for the fact there's no scratchy sounds on the disc, you'd think this was straight out of the 1930's to the 60's. Working with producer/multi-instrumentalist Drew Jurecka, they've recreated the sound using all those marvellous instruments. All the accordian trills, the clarinet lines, the light violins, the European touch on acoustic guitar.
You'll know lots of these melodies, thanks to the songs coming across the waves over the years, whether borrowed for instrumentals, or featured in cool European cinema. As for the language barrier for some, well, even your basic high school course should suffice, no need to struggle over jardin, fumer, melancolie, and of course, amour (in every other line). These are love songs, you're in Paris, that's a bottle of wine, figure it out. You want to wander down the Champs-Élysées? Barber has it down.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).