Canadian chanteuse Jill Barber is an artist without many comparisons. Armed with a voice that is both distinct and pleasingly beguiling, she has a carved out a recording career that has been a sheer joy for me to witness and listen to.
Previous releases, like her out-of-print debut (but digitally available here), A Note To Follow So and the Oh Heart EP, saw Barber in more of an acoustic, singer-songwriter setting. These releases were beautiful in their sheer simplicity and largely possessed a vintage feel. Her music has often danced between folk and jazz with later releases stepping ever closer to the latter.
Mischievous Moon, Barber’s third full-length album due for release next month, is perhaps her most purposeful jazz effort to date. Influenced by the legendary Ella Fitzgerald and Edith Piaf, she dips her voice into a collection of songs that are unabashedly polished and surrounded by a lush orchestration that is carried heavily throughout. At its whole, it’s a record perhaps best paired with a glass of Pinot Noir while away at some posh resort’s dimly lit lounge. The word ‘dreamy’ comes to mind.
The title track sets things in motion with a gentle violin and Barber’s timeless vocal delivery. Listeners will feel as though they’re being transported to the 40’s, complete with cigarette holders and red velvet fainting sofas.
The album’s first single is the gorgeous ‘Tell Me,’ a perfect choice for the album and one that perhaps best displays all of the best elements of Mischievous Moon. Barber re-records the song in French for the album’s closing with ‘Dis-Moi.’
Many of these songs are winners, as ‘Daydreamin’ is pure, sultry, classic jazz while ‘A Wish Under My Pillow’ and the delicate ‘Lullaby’ are happily sweet and simple.
Unfortunately, not everything here shines. The album’s two more up-tempo numbers don’t serve Barber as well as her softer ones. The Cha-Cha tailored, ‘Took Me By Surprise,’ while beautifully sung, sadly floats on the verge of cheese; the abundance of sweeping strings, soft horns and Casio-esque percussion add to the insult, creating a track eerily reminiscent to what you’d hear in an elevator. ‘Any Fool Can Fall In Love’ also suffers, albeit to lesser degree. Most of this is due to the excess of backing vocals which add to the album’s overall retro vibe, but ultimately distract from Barber’s voice, which should always be the star.
Fans of Barber’s earlier albums will find immediate comfort in Barber’s timeless voice, but the sweeping arrangements, glossy production and full-on jazz approach may be somewhat surprising to those not prepared.
Mischievous Moon will be available on April 5, 2011. Those who purchase the album on iTunes will also receive the bonus track, ‘Fast Talkin’ Man.’