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Jill Barber: Chances (2008) April 10, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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Jill Barber: Chances

Jill Barber: Chances

Picture a 1950s sock hop, like something out of Happy Days or American Graffiti. The lights go dim for the first slow dance of the night. Someone plucks the standup bass, then the piano and brushed drums and light guitar strokes come in, and a girlish voice sings “Chances, what are the chances, chances that I’d find you,” and before long the strings come in too. That’s how folkie singer/songwriter Jill Barber’s album Chances begins, and it stays firmly in that retro mode for the rest of its 33 minutes and 43 seconds.

Barber has a distinctive voice that reminds me a little of Brenda Lee or Wanda Jackson in her country ballad mode. Another obvious point of comparison is Julee Cruise circa Floating Into the Night. You can easily imagine some of these songs playing in the background of something by David Lynch. The difference is the ominous undercurrent in Floating Into the Night that reminds you it’s not actually a 1950s pop album, but something modern and odd. Barber’s album is, by and large, true to whitebread 1950s pop, though her singing seems a bit incongruous on “Oh My My,” which reminds me more of something less whitebread, like Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman,” thanks to its insistent rhythm and background vocals.

In a way, this could be a female counterpart to Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner, which also draws on 1950s infuences, but Chances is too purely retro to have the timeless feel Coles Corner has. No ambient outro here.

What matters, though, is that the singing and musicianship are solid, and the tunes are catchy and memorable. There are a lot of great little touches; just the right backing vocal here, a little jazzy touch there, a hint of country over there, a bit of a swinging ’30s or ’40s feel on “Leaving You,” all of that making this a thoroughly enjoyable anachronism.

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