JILL BARBER with JOSH RITTER at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Saturday (January 29). $12. 416-596-1908.
Jill Barber is waiting for the other karmic shoe to drop.
The Port Credit-bred ingenue's been riding a wave of horseshoes lately. First, veteran CBC producer Glenn Meisner, entranced by the lilting pop on her indie A Note To Follow So disc, invited Barber to hole up in Halifax's celebrated Studio H, where she recorded the follow-up with a pool of stellar jazz players.
Backed by Meisner and an ace arrangement team, the brilliant nouveau-Brill Building process resulted in last year's gorgeous Oh Heart (Dependent), an intricate and remarkably warm set of jazz- and cabaret-inflected acoustic tunes that could be the soundtrack for a swingin' social for 1920s sailors on shore leave.
In the fall, she and brother Matt tried their hand at a West Coast tour, which for most upstart musicians means chugging through a mind-numbing series of shitty roadhouse and coffeeshop gigs.
"We thought it'd be a backwoods drinking hole in the Slocan Valley," laughs Barber. "One time, it was pitch black, and we were travelling along this old logging road in the middle of nowhere when we saw a sign that said 'Leave Your Car Here. '"
Shit. In a bad slasher flick, that's when the fresh-faced songbird sibs are attacked by the evil serial killer.
"Oh, no, it was beautiful. We took our instruments and hiked up this cute trail lit by tea lights, on this mild evening with fresh mountain air. We arrived at the venue, an amazing eco-lodge, and they'd cooked a feast for us. It was like a hostel, and people could pay 10 bucks for the show or 20 to spend the night." Barber sighs. "It was just soooo good."
They didn't even get food poisoning. Of course, the next day - after a cheery wake-up call and full breakfast, natch - the kids busted open their transmission tank on a rocky road when they tried to find their way back from a natural hot spring. Guess they'd used up their good karma.
"Yeah, but we had full coverage, so we didn't have to pay a cent!"
Barber soeur deserves all that good fortune. She's been performing since she was a Treble Charger-obsessed teenager, when she and her high school posse threw basement shows and played fizzy 90s indie rock. And Port Credit music geeks might remember her as the guitar-toting 15-year-old who used to treat customers at the Perk-Up Café (seriously) to a medley of the decade's classics.
"I'd play Neil Young, and Sloan's I Can Feel It," Barber groans. "I played Weeping Tile's In The Road. Most of my early songs were based on that chord progression. Oh, and lots of Hayden songs."
Lucky for us, now that her voice has matured, Barber's turned away from the Halifax Pop Explosion and toward the well-crafted songs and sophisticated phrasing that are on full display on Oh Heart.
The disc ended up on several best-of-2004 lists, and Barber's currently nominated for two East Coast Music Awards. But as she gets ready to work on the follow-up, with no public broadcaster-affiliated fairy godfather in sight, she's still nervous about that whole karmic balance thing.
"It leaves me wondering how I'm going to keep it up with the next record."
She pauses. "Actually, I think you can be more creative when you have limitations. I kinda like a more minimalist approach to recording. The trick is to write songs that stand on their own without all the added arrangements."
But she's not ruling out any options.
"Hey, this one fan called up Joel Plaskett and invited him to come record in Arizona - and Joel did! It's nice when people call and offer to help you record for free. Hint, hint."