The alternative guitar tuning that Canadian folk artist Joni Mitchell is famous for, can seem daunting to other musicians.
But for Langley singer/songwriter Jessica Barbour, Mitchell’s made up chords — often called “Joni’s’ weird chords” — paired with powerful lyrics, are some of her biggest inspirations.
“Everything she says is so simple, yet intentional. She’s just one of those songwriters that when you listen to her, it’s like she’s singing about your own life,” said Barbour, 27, who will pay homage to Mitchell in a tribute show at the Envision Financial Twilight Concert Series in Mission on June 20.
“Incredibly relatable, but yet so specific in what she writes about. I still have so many songwriters who I listen to, but I’ve never listened to someone who I just got. Whenever I listen to her, it’s like she’s sitting next to me singing in my bedroom. I could gush about Joni a lot. She just clicks with me.”
Barbour discovered Mitchell’s music while living in Glasgow Scotland, where she and her then husband, Hugh, recorded an album and launched a European tour of nine cities. It was Mitchell’s song For Free from the Ladies of the Canyon album that truly spoke to her.
At the time, Barbour was also working at a cosmetics store, and noticed the same old man busking on Buchanan Street, located just around the corner from the store.
Dressed in a suit, he would serenade busy shoppers with his clarinet, and collect tips.
“Within that time period, I found this song called For Free, and it’s literally about a clarinet player who plays for free on the street,” Barbour said.
“And just the way that she describes it, it was the same experience I had with this clarinet player. It was so — I can’t even explain it. I still listen to that song, and I always think of Glasgow. It was almost as if she was writing about the same man that I would see.
“I just have those moments with her songs a lot. And I love singing her song. I think our ranges, vocally, are similar. And so singing her songs comes quite easy to me, and that’s always fun when you can find an artist that you can cover their music really well, and you feel proud of your versions of their songs.”
Beyond tribute shows, Barbour has an independent music career of her own. She has written and recorded original songs, including the album Oh My Days, released in 2016, and is a regular performer at Vancouver’s Railway Club and The Roxy, Brick Alley Bistro in Aldergrove and Porter’s Cafe in Murrayville, where she also works as a barista part time.
Her music, she says, is “pop at its core” with folk influences.
“I jokingly say it’s kind of like Owl City meets Joni Mitchell. There’s a little bit of rock influences as well, pop folk-rock. I would love to eventually create my own genre called ‘electro-folk,'” she said.
“Everything I write is like that. The album I released in 2016 is very eclectic in terms of genre. There’s a couple of electronic songs, some folk, rock, even country, but it’s all pop music.”
Much like her musical idol, Barbour creates a lot of her music her own way. With no formal musical training, she relies on her natural talent.
“Everything I do is very much by ear, and it’s just trial and error and practising a lot,” she said.
“But my band is the talent, they really are amazing musicians. I often write a song, and I bring it to the band and they ask, what key is it in? And I have no idea, so they just have to figure it out. But they are very good at that.”
When she isn’t playing music, Barbour also teaches paint nights, does murals and commissioned artwork, plays Disney princesses for children’s birthday parties, and acts in professional theatre productions.
She is currently rehearsing for Theatre in the Country’s musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, running May 31 to June 16 in Langley at 5708 Glover Rd.
Barbour plays the role of Clopin Trouillefou, who has been gender-bent to become the ‘Queen of the Gypsies.’
No matter what artistic form she is performing, Barbour says her “happy place” is on stage.
“I just have so much fun, and it’s something I’ve been dreaming about for so long,” she said.
“And the best thing ever is when people know my songs and they request my songs and they sing along with them. It just makes me feel on top of the world.”
For more on the upcoming Theatre in the Country production, visit theatreinthecountry.com.