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Album Review

Pianist/vocalist Patricia Barber is the Alanis Morissette of the jazz world. Her serpentine, poetic songs teeter between deftly witty and awkwardly Latinate. Each album is more ambitious than the last, taking her deeper into avant-garde territory both lyrically and instrumentally. Verse is no exception. Case in point: "I Could Eat Your Words," a canny bit of word play in the tradition of "Peel Me a Grape," in which Barber barely gets away with words like "provocation" and "syllogistically," only to sum things up with the devastating line, "sip the spit from your bittersweet rhyme." The indelible track here, though, has to be "If I Were Blue," featuring the line, "If I were blue, like David Hockney's pool/Dive into me and glide under a California sky/Inside your mouth and nose and eyes am I." It's perhaps the best thing Barber has ever written — it could be considered serious modern poetry if only it didn't rhyme. About the biggest complaint one can lodge against Barber is her insistent denial of melody. Her voice is soft, almost matter-of-fact, and she more or less hints at singing. Obviously, lyrical intent is more important to Barber than how she carries a tune, and her voice does seem more suited to whispering torch songs cabaret-style, such as on "Dansons la Gigue," than delivering any vocal gymnastics. It's just that sometimes her songs could be showcased better with a consistently delivered vocal melody. However, she makes up for her lack of sonorousness (to use a Barber kind of word) with intricate musical arrangements, this time around augmented by the Miles Davis-cum-Lester Bowie trumpet of Dave Douglas. Barber's is a world of cloaked intentions, and Douglas' playful vibrato works like the flame of a candle illuminating her soft, shadowy corners.

Customer Reviews


are you one of those guys from "sound opinions"? alanis morisette? torch songs? your slip is showing. i recommend seeing patricia barber live... then, perhaps, one might have an inkling of the elegance of her persona as well as her music - her lyrics, her arrangements, her touch on the piano, the space, her band's interplay - a lot of which is evident in this album. i love the imagery she creates on Pieces. Dansons la Gigue is another favorite - just listen to the delicacy of conversation.

Reviewers confusion

The official reviewer of this album entitled, ahem, "Verses," laments that the one flaw of this terrific singer is that she sounds too much like a poet and not quite enough like a melodious singer. Well, that was the intent of THIS album. Music AND lyrics, with lyrics taking the front of the stage. And wonderful lyrics they are. Patricia Barber is a sultry, jazzy, swinging singer, but not especially on this album because it is "Verses." Get it? Still this is a great album! Because of the sophistication of the lyrics, it can be enjoyed time and again, for years. I have greatly enjoyed this album. "If I Were Blue" is genius. If you are trying some Patricia Barber, don't miss her Mythologies album. It is her best. Sit back. Listen. It is beautiful. Nothing like it.

deep and dark

i love her voice! if you dig this, you may also like Eddie Skuller.


Born: 1956 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Patricia Barber's unique style and unusual voice made her an easy target for critics in the early days of her career. Her piano playing and singing, while inventive, never ventured close enough to the avant-garde to earn her artistic license, and her insistence on writing her own material and adapting songs from the pop world made her difficult to categorize. A tireless performer who refused to conform to more conventional vocal jazz idioms, she worked her way up through the Chicago jazz scene slowly,...
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Verse, Patricia Barber
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