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Issue 1084

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Review

Jill Barber: Foolâs Gold (Outside Music)

Jill Barber CD cover pic

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6.1

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UK release date 09.03.2015

Ohhhhh, this is sweet. Canadian singer-songwriter Jill Barberâs debut UK release and most worthy of wide spread attention. Amazingly, her sixth studio album; sheâs a top draw in her native country, new to us over here but very welcome.

How to describe Jillâs style and this little gem? Well, âFools Gold,â aims to explore every nook of Jill Barber's musical history. Songs in the vein of the Brill Building, Motown and beyond.

Even though one would not automatically file Jill and this album under âJazz,â it debuted at #1 on the Canadian Billboard Jazz Chart and spent six weeks in the top spot, and nine weeks at # 1 on the iTunes Canada Jazz chart. The video for the first single ''Broken For Good'' premiered on heav-weight TV show USA Today.

Jill Barber has a really, really distinctive voice. That sultry, warm, soulful vibrato of the likes of Norah Jones and Katie Melua, perhaps. But it's her ability to write an immediately memorable song that has made her one of Canada's most recognizable artists. There are more hooks here than a fishing tackle store. Plenty of play-list fodder for daytime, mainstream, BBC Radio 2. Pretty safe stuff, nothing risky or daring, and that is not meant as a criticism by the way. Far from it. Jill explores different musical styles, from traditional country, to jazz and Motown, though she avoids working neatly within the confines of any one genre, and dislikes being pigeonholed as an artist. Instead she writes in the spirit of the Brill Building era, where hook and melody reigned. Amen to that.
It has an unapologetic retro flavour thoughout, and more ballads than up-tempo stuff. Who said nostalgia ainât what it used to be? Not Jill Barber. âI can't help but feel nostalgic for other eras of music. When I listen to Etta James, or Ray Charles or Carole King, I feel almost intoxicated. It stirs something in me. When I write my own music, my greatest hope is that it ends up becoming the perfect soundtrack to some great romance, or at the very least a great cocktail party.â


Fool's Gold was ably produced in Toronto by Jill's long-time collaborators and band-mates Les Cooper and Drew Jureck. Les produced Jillâs albums âFor All Time,â âChances,â and âMischievous Moon,â while Jurecka was behind the board of Jillâs French language album âChansons.â Both are in Jillâs touring band.

Much of the album was made at a distance, as Jill was spending time at home in Vancouver with her husband, CBC Radio personality Grant Lawrence, and their newborn baby son Joshua. Many of the early demo recordings that were made for âFool's Gold,â feature a baby cooing in the background!
Jill's songs set a romantic mood, and she introduces a sexy Motown-inspired sound on the lead single âBroken for Good.â Lots of crisp snare, tambourine and driving kick drum, punchy horns and a driving bass line. It is all there from the Motor City sound. The kind of commercial but credible pop-soul sound that Paloma Faith and the likes of Fitz & The Tantrums do so well.

The lush strings add value to this track and across most of the album. âLetâs Call It Love,â has a fab hook and showcases her fabulous vocal phrasing. To be honest, thereâs not a dud cut among the 11. As an introduction to an artist and songwriter should get to know, âFoolâs Gold,â is the perfect calling card.
We get 11 original, fully orchestrated songs that sound like we have heard some of them before, from the 1950s/60s Great American Songbook perhaps.

She has an immature quality to her vocal, like a young girl who astounds family, friends and schoolmates with an amazing voice no one knew she had. But her fellow Canadians are well aware of that voice by now. One of Canada's most beloved performers, Jill sells out theatres from coast to coast, and has garnered numerous awards, including two Juno nominations (Canada's Grammy). Fans of Jill include Kris Kristofferson, who calls her âa real songwriter, a damn good songwriterâ and Josh Ritter, who has toured extensively with Jill. Fellow Canadian Ron Sexsmith, who has written with the likes of Coldplay and Elvis Costello, has become one of her closest collaborators, having co-written two songs on "Mischievous Moon," ("Chances," and "Old Flame").


Jillâs songs have been featured in the US TV series âOrange Is The New Blackâ and a national car commercial. I am told all six of Jillâs albums will be released here, and she will have UK shows in October. Jill can sing in English and French. Having spent considerable time writing and studying in the south of France there is a smattering of French influence on Jillâs music. This has endeared her to Francophone audiences in Quebec and resulted in two sold-out headlining performances at the International Montreal Jazz Festival.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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