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Listening to: Jill Barber, Chances

Jill Barber Chances

A review of Jill Barber’s Chances (2008)

Jill Barber is a Halifax-based… traditional jazz singer? Swing singer? Country singer? Torch singer? Maybe “western swing,” antiquated as it sounds, is a good genre for her. I had previously heard, and loved, her album For All Time, which was a little more country and r&b, and a little less jazz.

This record is “fully orchestrated,” meaning that she’s accompanied by a band and an orchestra. This open up musical opportunities: her voice lends itself well to this slighty twangy big band canvas. And what a lovely voice it is: Jill Barber’s tone is straight-up like Norah Jones, full like Fiona Apple (but not as angry), playful like Marilyn Monroe (why not use her as a comparison…?), and she has the sort of sure-footed pitch and phrasing that indicates a professional singer’s long apprenticeship. She also has something magical that can’t be articulated easily: her voice is engaging, interesting and – ultimately – unforgettable.

Three songs are co-written by Barber with Ron Sexsmith, who elevates Barber’s already quite fabulous game to an entirely new level. These are gems – songs that would have been chart hits 50 or 60 years ago and that will inevitably deserve a much wider audience than they’ll get.

I love the ‘widescreen’ production on this – the production values, recording quality, the mix and the mastering are fabulous. This CD has one of the widest soundstages I’ve heard in a while. Kudos to producer/arranger Les Cooper. The musicianship is flawless, too, and there are some nice touches in the instrumentation (flute, fiddle, vibes).

Standout tracks for me are “Chances,” “Oh My My” (which I think is completely fantastic in a sort of secular gospel way and imagine to be great live) and “Never Quit Loving You.”

Where Susie Arioli (swing chanteuse from Montreal whose neo-traditional swing is not entirely dissimilar to this) can sound sleepy at times, the quality of the songcraft here, Jill’s unique voice and the slow but muscular arrangements kept me interested and excited throughout.

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