When one is analyzing jazz or jazz-influenced pop, it is important to know the difference between sweet and saccharine. Lester Young, Jo Stafford, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, the Ink Spots, and Glenn Miller were quite capable of sweetness; Kenny G, Najee, and Dave Koz, on the other hand, have often epitomized saccharine -- they are masters of artificial sweetness. So where does Emilie-Claire Barlow fit in? The Canadian jazz vocalist is definitely sweet -- very sweet -- but there isn't a trace of saccharine on Like a Lover. Barlow brings an enjoyably girlish charm to this self-produced bop CD, although she isn't a girl.
Born in 1976, she was in her late twenties when Like a Lover came out in 2005 -- and for Barlow, girlish doesn't mean wimpy, thin-voiced, or unswinging. Barlow has an impressive vocal range, and she definitely swings -- she swings whether she is favoring high-speed exuberance on Bob Dorough's "(I've Got) Just About Everything I Need" or getting into ballad mode on "Blame It on My Youth" and George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me." She swings whether she is singing in English (her primary language) or detouring into Portuguese on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "So Danço Samba."
If Like a Lover has any real weakness, it is the fact that Barlow is much too standards-minded; she picks too many warhorses that have been beaten to death over the years. That isn't to say that Barlow should avoid standards altogether -- only that she needs to find more great songs that haven't been recorded so often. The more Barlow broadens her repertoire, the more she will stand out in the crowded field of jazz singing. But while Like a Lover could have been more adventurous in its choice of material, it's still a likable and pleasing effort from the Toronto-born improviser.
-Alex Henderson, Rovi