JILL BARBER with ANDRE ETHIER at the Mod Club (722 College), Friday (June 1). $14. 416-588-4663. Also performing as part of the White Ribbon benefit with RON SEXSMITH, LUKE DOUCE, KEVIN HEARN, JUSTIN RUTLEDGE, KATHRYN ROSE and more at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Tuesday (June 5). $25-$75. www.whiteribbon.ca. Rating: NNNNN
As one of only a handful of women balancing out the boys' club lineup for this year's White Ribbon benefit for the campaign to end men's violence against women, Jill Barber's using her time and talent to fight for a day when women everywhere feel strong and fearless.
The White Ribbon roster has traditionally been almost exclusively male, focusing on femme-positive dudes in keeping with the campaign's aim. Playing this show is a very different experience from the perspective of a female artist.
Different questions come up. For instance, which of her testosteroney fellow performers could Barber (a sometime tree planter whose gentle old-timey tunes belie a tough core) take in a fight?
"I'll try to answer that tasteless question honestly," muses Barber, giggling, from her Halifax home. "I could probably take Ron Sexsmith. That's right. He's so sensitive that I could say something mean, then punch him while he was down.
"Not that I have any interest in doing that."
It's a good choice, though. Not cuz Sexsmith's a sissy (really!), but because after spending a chunk of last fall touring stadiums as his supporting act, Barber's likely figured out the man's secret weaknesses.
That high-profile tour was just one of the opportunities that landed in the lap of the Port Credit-bred songstress following the release of her excellent For All Time (Baudelaire/Dependent) disc.
A substantial step forward from 04's lovely Oh Heart (Dependent) EP, Barber's first LP has the sepia-toned charm of an artifact from another era, drifting from sun-bleached lap steel country to hop-skipping jazz that would've sounded at home filtering from the Palais Royale veranda back when doe-eyed fillies foxtrotted with their sailor beaus by the lake.
Thanks largely to Barber's perfect phrasing and rich, effortless vocals, the Victrola-friendly tunes never sound contrived or forced, so it's surprising to learn the recording process was less than smooth.
"It was kind of trying, to be honest," she confesses. "I'm happiest when I'm playing live, but as soon as I get into a vocal booth and am singing to a bed track, I struggle with trying to get an authentic performance.
"I'm almost nostalgic for a time when artists would go into, say, Sun Studios and make an album in a day."
Part of Barber's challenge with For All Time was that, in contrast to her experience making Oh Heart, which was produced and orchestrated by the CBC, this album was solely her baby - with the assistance of aces like Luke Doucet and Jim Cuddy.
And though she landed an East Coast Music Award for recording of the year, it seems like Barber's most thrilled about the fact that the album brought about her first Euro tour.
"I swear my worst show over there was as good, if not better than, my best show in Canada," she gushes. "Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it opened my eyes and made me wonder why I hadn't spent more time over there.
"It's like I'd internalized this funny Canadian mentality where I was convinced I had to go back and forth across my own country before I qualified to go to Europe. It's a warped kind of patriotism."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Compare and contrast: Jill talks about the very different processes of making For All Time and her last record, Oh Heart
Jill discusses her (possible) vision for the next album.