Jill Barber

Mischievous Moon

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The first notes of the first song on this album fill you with foreboding: brushed drums, a simple string bassline, and even simpler piano chords played in pulsing eighth notes, Fats Domino style. Sweet Mother of Claudine Longet, you wonder, what have I gotten myself into? Then Jill Barber's voice comes in, with that unmistakable mid-century blend of little-girl timbre and orotund vowels, and you have your answer: you've gotten yourself into a mess of nostalgia, and the only thing that will deliver you to the other side of these 41 minutes with your sanity intact will be the quality of the songs. Luckily for you, these are great songs. Also luckily for you, Jill Barber and her co-conspirators recognize no functional difference between torch ballads, Patsy Cline-era country music, and cocktail jazz. Best of all, if their love of these various musical anachronisms is ironic, it's impossible to tell -- the wordless background vocals, the plinking pianos, the string sections, and Barber's little-girl-about-town singing style all combine to create what sounds like a purely and sincerely loving pastiche of musical elements that, for anyone under the age of 60, will sound both eerily familiar (from movies your parents like) and utterly foreign. From the decorous cha-cha of "Took Me by Surprise" (with its unbelievably cheesy horn chart) to the torchy orchestral pop of "Tenderness," the music is certainly gimmicky, but the pleasure is real. And this is pop music, people: pleasure is pretty much all that counts.

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