I’m sure that there are many of you, like me, who are willing to purchase or ‘pre-order’ a new album based solely from the artist name alone? Ah yes, I’m dropping hints of my age by recalling fond memories of riding the bus to my favorite record store on the day of the release (no online ordering back then – heck, no internet even – growing up in the Dark Ages was so challenging). Scouring the album racks, hoping your choice would be found in the correct space, listed under the correct genre; or better yet, taking a copy from the store-front display if your musical taste was deemed worthy enough, and then eagerly giving it several spins when you got back home. By 2020 standards, this whole process seems so alien and archaic, with access to digital music so readily and easily available, yet one thing remains the same – true music fans have no reservations in purchasing music (unheard) from artists that always bring joy into their lives.
Upon learning that Vancouver, BC singer-songwriter Jill Barber was releasing a new album this summer, her first since the groundbreaking 2018 “Metaphora” release, I had no reservations in pre-ordering a copy once the announcement was made. Learning, too, that this was to be a fully-fledged French language project, the first since her incredibly successful 2013 “Chansons” album, I was very curious to see what Jill had in store for us this time around. Both “Chansons,” (an album of classics and jazz covers) and her 2011 “Mischievous Moon” albums happened to be the first two Jill Barber CDs that made their way into our collection, purchased when stumbling upon them both here in a PA music store many years ago. And with the formal release of “Entre nous” last Friday, Jill provides an absolute gem of an album, perfectly timed for not only the summer season, but for raising all of our spirits during this on-going tumultuous 2020 pandemic.
In a bold move for an Anglophone, “Entre nous” not only sees Barber opting to flex her love of the French language once more, but also presents her first collection of original French songs, co-written with Francophone collaborator Maia Davies, and produced by acclaimed Montreal & NYC producer Gus Van Go. As you extract the CD or “Mimosa” colored vinyl for that first spin, I highly recommend absorbing the pastels and outfit adorned by Jill from the album cover artwork, as this imagery perfectly captures the retro, throw-back nature of what your senses shall soon detect. Inspired by French pop music of the 1960s, Barber reaches a new level of intimacy with the language of love on “Entre nous.” Offering a true time-travel adventure as she whisks you away to a 60s era Quebec City café-bar or summers’ eve stroll along a Parisienne cobbled street, these eleven tracks provide a very welcomed and quite remarkable 38 minutes of charming, romantic escapism.
Opening with the title track, the champagne-soaked sounds of this toe-tapper set a very pleasing and definitive tone; rich in vintage instrumentation cues that remain prevalent throughout the album. Charming blasts of vibrophone and mellotron, with a chorus of congas, are joined by a triple onslaught of timeless organ sounds courtesy of Wurlitzer, Farfisa and Hammond to perfectly complement Jill’s authentic and era-appropriate vocal delivery. Inspiring you to dance along to the cha-cha paced “Chat domestique” one moment, then forcing your full, seated attention for “La pluie” the next, the common thread binding each and every track together is the nostalgic timelessness of each composition. “Quand on est ensemble / Notre amour fleuri / On s’est fait une famille / Elle grandit aussi,” Jill recites during “Nos retrouvailles,” accompanied by some light acoustic guitar and piano keys that are equally at home in 1960 and 2020; at least until luring you back to the past with tambourines and traditional Gallic accordion that accompany the chorus: “Non retrouvailles seront un jardin planté de nos tendresses / On s´embrassera comme si on ne se quittera jamias / Nos retrouvailles feront de nos deux corps une forteresse / On s´embrassera comme si on ne se quittera jamais.”
With firmly established musical roots within the folk, indie and jazz genres, “Metaphora” proved that Jill is equally at home with pop music too, a genre represented well here on this new release. “Les étés de Montréal” is a light back & forth duet with popular Quebecois artist Yann Perreau (an English version titled “Summer Nights in Montréal” was released as a stand alone single last month), while “Le monde est beau” has a breezy pace, complete with simple, yet wonderful hand-claps to accompany Jill’s delivery of the catchy chorus. Vintage early 60s sounds return with the eerily beautiful “Comme les fleurs,” the moving organ notes reminding me of the Santo & Johnny classic, “Sleep Walk,” while “Reflets” should feel more at home maybe in the Southern region of France, given the slight flamenco guitar riffs that play alongside Jill in an otherwise instrumentally muted number. “Regarde mon visage plein de regrets / Ne fais pas les mêmes erreurs que j´ai faites,” she recites, “Regarde mon visage plein d´espoir / Je ne ferai jamais les erreurs de ma mêre.”
“Chansons” was a well-received French language album due in part to Jill’s unique interpretation of classic French tunes, so it seems perfectly fitting that she should once again record a popular cover version. Yet with “Suzanne,” she changes her navigational course somewhat, turning a popular English language track into a haunting French interpretation. And while there are no shortages of Leonard Cohen covers (indeed, “Suzanne” was included on “Homage,” an excellent Cohen tribute album by Toronto artist Andrea Ramolo in 2018), Barber’s switching of language and sweet, somber tones really accentuate Cohen’s biographical words. “Comme une pierre / Tu veux rester à ses côtés / Maintenant tu n´as plus peur / De voyager les yeux fermés / Une flamme blûle dans ton coeur.”
I am a connoisseur of all things mid-century modern, fond of the ‘atomic’ era of design, architecture and lifestyle, so the retro sounds of “Entre nous” naturally appeal to me. Closing my eyes, it is too easy to picture myself seated in an Eames chair, perhaps in a room furnished like Don Draper’s Manhattan home (Mad Men) with a generous serving of whisky in hand, and few cares in the world as I get lost in Jill’s music. “Entre nous” is a stunning collection of songs that belong in every home, whether French speaking or English speaking, it really makes no difference. Like a fine Bordeaux, or a classic Citroen DS, this is a magnificent piece of French culture that will continue to be appreciated through the ages. Bravo to Jill Barber for creating this true ray of sunshine; an album perfect for any occasion, and a total lock for my year end Top 20 albums list. Skip this one at your own peril, it’s a beauty!
Photo Credit: Grant Harder