By Eric Russ
For an exclusive premiere of Jill Barber’s “Let’s Call it Love,” see below.
[D]on’t let the fact that Jill Barber is a relative unknown in the States dissuade you—“Canada’s Sweetheart” (a moniker she admittedly gave to herself) is about to release her sixth studio album, Fool’s Gold, and is poised to make an international splash.
“I’ve toured and toured and toured for years,” she said, “yet I’ve so rarely played in the U.S.” However, following tomorrow’s U.S. release of Fool’s Gold, Barber will perform six Stateside dates. “I’m ready to work more internationally,” she said. “For me in my career, the time is right.”
Beyond breaking out internationally, Barber’s new album certainly does show just how mature the singer/songwriter has become in her career, and in her personal life. She and her husband, Grant Lawrence, a prominent radio personality in Canada, welcomed their first child into the world last summer. But it certainly didn’t stop her for long—she was back out on tour last fall.
While her touring schedule has rolled along, one might imagine certain pitfalls in developing a wide audience for Barber’s records. Breaking with normal music marketing ideology, her records pit Motown, country and jazz alongside one another unabashedly. This move has been something of a gamble on her part, betting that fans will appreciate good songs no matter the style. “I’ve always found it really natural that a record spans different genres,” she said. “I’ve always worn my influences on my sleeves.”
The threads of Barber’s inspirations are numerous, often drawing comparisons to the bygone musical eras of the Brill Building and Motown. “A good song in any genre just pulls me in,” she said. Barber’s songwriting, while inclusive of many genres, is almost deceiving in its familiarity. “Sometimes it’s kind of a compliment if people overlook me as a songwriter,” she confided, “because I might have fooled them into thinking they were hearing a classic song.”
Though Barber possesses indisputable talent as a singer, it has really been her songwriting that has buoyed her career. “I’m definitely a songwriter first,” she clarified. “I’ve always felt that’s what sets me apart.” Her ability to write has allowed her the creative freedom to follow in the footsteps of the artists who inspire her. In doing so, she has forgone many of the music predilections of her own generation and the whimsical trends of pop music, instead invoking the tastes of a more earnest time, when music was about storytelling and songs were proudly sentimental.
On “Let’s Call It Love” (premiering just below), Barber shows off her romantic sensibility without being, as she puts it, “schmaltzy.” This is, of course, never an easy line to walk. However, Barber succeeds, carrying the torch of some of the greats. “Whenever I’m stuck in songwriting, I return to the people who inspire me,” she said. “Of all the songs on this record, this song is an homage to Nick Lowe. He writes these songs that sound like they’ve been around for decades.” It is that everlasting quality that she seeks to harness in her own songwriting.
It would seem, with the release of Fool’s Gold, that the wind is at Barber’s back, likely to blow her right into the American charts. In an age when downloading a song precludes record companies hemming and hawing over how to market an artist’s music to the right consumer, music lovers are finding the music they want to hear, without worrying too much about what genre it is anyway. With command of many genres at once and a point of view not indebted to current trends, “Canada’s Sweetheart” will no doubt soon win the hearts and minds of her neighbors to the south.