Jill Barber - (Set time: 8:15 PM)
Jill Barber has always had stars in her eyes. It's a natural side effect of gazing up at the moon and composing songs bathed in its silvery glow.
From her modest beginnings as a shy acoustic folkie on the local coffeehouse stage, Barber's recent career has been reaching starry heights. With the release of her fourth album Mischievous Moon, a stunning concoction that features Barber's unmistakable contralto backed by sweeping strings and dramatic orchestration, Jill Barber's evolution to confident chanteuse is complete.
Inspired by the great ladies of song like Ella Fitzgerald and Edith Piaf, Barber reached for a place on the international stage with the release of her last record, 2008's Chances. It was a turning point in her career, says Barber. "I think it's important to experiment and try on a number of musical hats to a point, but eventually you have figure out what your own contribution is going to be. When I finished writing and recording Chances, something clicked."
As a performer, Jill Barber charms her audiences while weaving a romantic spell. Indeed, romance plays a huge role in both her life and her art. "Chances represented the courtship phase of my career", she muses. "With Mischievous Moon, we're getting intimate. The romance is alive and well, but there's something deeper to be uncovered."
Barber's own romantic journey reached a peak last year with her marriage to national radio broadcaster and author Grant Lawrence, for whom she moved right across the country from Halifax, NS to her new home of Vancouver, BC. Born and raised in Port Credit, ON, Barber is now claimed by Ontario, and both coasts, as one of their own. "I'd like to say it's the ocean that has drawn me each time, but really it's always been the love of a man. I follow my heart. Consequently I've moved around so much that I've begun vying for the title of "Canada's Sweetheart," jokes Barber.
The writing process for Mischievous Moon was enriched by an artist residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in the Canadian Rockies. Barber worked late into the night accompanied by longtime producer and collaborator Les Cooper, a grand piano and a bottle of good Scotch. Violinist and composer Drew Jurecka stepped out of his usual role as a member of Jill's band to help with the writing and arrangements that appear on the record.
"I puzzled over what kind of album I wanted to make, because as an artist, once you find your voice the trick is not to lose it. That would be careless. But at the same time you can't just keep saying the same thing over and over again. In the end I decided to trust my instincts, and let the muse take control."
Barber has also begun to cross language barriers. Inspired by her growing French-speaking fan base and her admiration for la vie en rose, Barber now sings and records in both English and French. At the end of the lengthy recording process for Mischievous Moon, Barber enrolled in a French immersion school in the south of France. The result, she hopes, will be the ability to connect with French-speaking audiences everywhere, and as evidence of her commitment, the first single from Mischievous Moon will be released in both French and English ("Dis-Moi/Tell Me").
Barber continues to explore themes of love and romance on Mischievous Moon, which not only perfectly captures the whimsical moods of moonlight, but also explores what's hidden in the shadows it casts. "The moon has such a venerable presence in the night sky, keeping one eye on us. I don't know about everyone else, but sometimes it feels like we have our own private jokes, the moon and I. From time to time I can't help but look up and give it a little wink."
Lissy Rosemont - (Set time: 7:30 PM)
Why would an Atlanta singer with a Southern accent and a bluegrass-music-loving dad end up in Washington, D.C.?
To get a master's degree in physiology and biophysics from Georgetown, of course.
Lissy Rosemont, 27, frontwoman of Junior League Band, her life has been shaped, it seems, by contrasting worlds: father (think Walter in "The Big Lebowksi," only mix in the South and some bluegrass, Rosemont says) and a hymn-singing, angelic, peaceful mother from an influential Southern family. That, perhaps, gives you an idea of the type of person who would pursue a career as a doctor, only to turn it aside for the life of a struggling musician.
"It was more shocking to my siblings and boyfriend, who was a musician and wanted to be a lawyer," Rosemont says, recalling her decision. She quit her job at the National Institutes of Health, where she was doing breast cancer research, and turned down two medical schools. All to follow the music.
Music was a big part of her childhood, but she never liked singing in front of people. "I was kind of embarrassed because I didn't know if it sounded good," she says. That didn't stop her father, however, from waking her and her sister late at night to make them sing Hank Williams's "Your Cheating Heart" for his friends.
When Rosemont was in high school, she learned her father was bipolar, and, finally, some of that late-night "craziness" made sense to her. It was then that she started to realize that if she wanted to relate to her father, she would have to do it through music. "Once I caught on to that, it was a way to talk to Dad," she says.
Perhaps as a way to rebel against her father and the instability of his life, she pursued science over music. Her mother sent her to a private high school where Rosemont "got into the privilege stuff and social justice stuff," she says.
As a grad student at Georgetown, she started to shift goals. A good friend persuaded her to find musicians to jam with.
"It did kind of light the fire," Rosemont says, recalling her former group, the Rosemont Family Reunion, which was "more rock than folky. . . . It was really fun. It was my entry to playing music with young people for the first time." That's also when she started using Lissy Rosemont as her stage name. (Her real name is Elisabeth Beaver.) Ultimately the band broke up. But Rosemont's new path in life was born. She picked up the banjo and started writing songs.
The music on Junior League Band's third album, "Mitchell Williams Fo Govena," features fiddle, a banjo and a dobro. But it's not bluegrass. It's more down-home folk, the kind of music you picture friends playing on someone's back porch in Faulkner's South. And it's Rosemont, with her thin, simple and sweet but cutting voice, who really makes the sound.
"I like to analyze a lot of things, anyway, whether it be people-watching or song structure," she says. Her approach to writing music seems methodical, if not downright scientific. She keeps a folder of words and phrases she likes. She looks at elements in other songs that work. She organizes her ideas and pieces them together. She has even studied one of her main influences, Pearl Jam, by watching them and reading interviews with them.
She says she doesn't regret the life as a doctor that she could have had, although she does miss the benefits of a stable job. But Junior League Band has been too busy to allow her any time to look back. Her life journey has lead her to a unique spot for a woman: leader of a band. "That, in terms of social activism, is a newer form of feminism," she says.
She's really not trying to make any statement or be some sort of role model through her story or her music. That would be too pompous, she says. "I'm just trying to express myself."
Nothing scientific about that.
(By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer)