Iridescent music

Tara Bradbury
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Mary Barry fulfils lifelong dream with francophone album

Mary Barry's latest CD Chansons Irisees is her first francophone album. The Newfoundland singer/songwriter is about to go on a small tour to promote her CD and will hold singing workshops in the new year.

Mary Barry’s musical style, she says, is as much a part of her as her thick, red hair: she just can’t change it.

She does, however, add some highlights to her trademark jazz on her newest CD, including a bit of tango, some cabaret and even a country tune.

The CD, “Chansons Irisees,” is Barry’s fourth, and her first francophone album. Putting out a CD entirely in French has been one of Barry’s lifelong dreams, ever since she was in her 20s and visited Quebec City with the intention of staying three days — but ended up living there for seven years, singing in bars and learning French.

In Quebec, she got in with the artistic crowd, including Bruno Fecteau — who later went on to become musical director for well-known Quebecois singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault — and poet Christine Bernard.

“I told Christine many years ago that one day I would record one of her songs, and she was like, ‘Ben oui, un jour, peut-etre,’ (Yes, one day, maybe),” Barry said. Bernard ended up letting Barry use six of her songs on “Chansons Irisees,” including “La gare,” a full-on country tune.

“She said, ‘I have a song in mind that I think would be great for your voice. It’s a country song,’” Barry explained.

“I’ve always wanted to do a country song, so I thought, why not do it in French?”

Some original compositions

The CD incudes some of Barry’s own French compositions as well as her interpretations of French standards, like Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose.”

Her rendition of Jacques Brel’s classic “Ne me quitte pas” (“Don’t Leave Me”), the CD’s last track, is a lyrically challenging song about profound despair. Barry recorded the track in one attempt, but said she wasn’t quite sure at first if she should have re-recorded it.

“I can safely say there are a couple times in the song when there are tears in my voice,” she said.

“I came out of the studio and I said, ‘Bruno, should we redo it? My voice cracked at the end,’ and he said, ‘Absolutely not — that was one of the most honest renditions of the song I’ve ever heard.’

“I felt so naked in the studio, with just me and a very sparse piano, but he put a string arrangement with it, and it’s sublime.”

At the time Barry started the project with Fecteau, she wasn’t aware he had been working as Vigneault’s musical director, and he didn’t tell her.

He also surprised her when it came to the musicians he brought in to work on the album — after the CD was done, he told her they were Vigneault’s band.

“He said, ‘Aren’t you glad I didn’t tell you?’ You can’t imagine how shy I would have been. Here was a Newfoundlander in a Quebec City studio singing songs in French. Because I didn’t know who they were, I was able to be unafraid.” Barry said, adding the musicians were “Really nice, really talented and really respectful.”

Award winner

Barry is an award-winning singer/songwriter, who was named MusicNL’s Female Artist of the Year in 2004 and 2007, and Jazz/Blues Artist of the Year in 2007. She’s also a two-time East Coast Music Award nominee.

Barry represented Newfoundland and Labrador at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, performing on the francophone stage, at Atlantic Canada House and an intimate cabaret-style show at a local club.

She launched “Chansons Irisees” in St. John’s with a show at Memorial University’s D.F. Cook Recital Hall last February, in Quebec in September and did a national launch in Ottawa Sept. 28.

She’s leaving today for a week-long media blitz of the Maritimes, doing interviews and record-store launches, before holding an album launch show in Halifax, hosted by “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” star Cathy Jones.

In the new year, Barry will embark on what she calls a “mini-tour,” with stops in Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, St-Pierre-Miquelon and the Stephenville area, performing and conducting singing workshops. She’s also got plans for a music video.

Barry’s already working on ideas for future albums, including a CD of jazz standards and more franco-phone music.

“I love (French) music; I love the songs,” she said. “And I love singing in French. When I sing in French, I have to find a different character. It’s very liberating.”

Organizations: Atlantic Canada House

Geographic location: Quebec City, Ottawa, Newfoundland and Labrador Vancouver Halifax Montreal Stephenville

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