TORONTO – With five Juno nominations but no wins yet, Toronto jazz vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow has her mind on a certain wedding cliche as well as a famous soap-opera star ahead of the awards bash.
“Always a bridesmaid,” the velvet-voiced singer said with a sigh and a laugh in a recent interview. “My dream is to be the Susan Lucci of the Junos. I want to be nominated 25 times and never win.”
Barlow was referring to Lucci’s much-lampooned, multi-Emmy nomination streak from 1978 until 1999, when she finally won the trophy.
“But you know what? To me, that’s way cooler than just sort of having a flash in the pan and being nominated and winning once,” Barlow continued good-naturedly in a coffee shop near her beach-area home.
“People disappear — you see this happen with artists, where their name is everywhere and then it’s crickets. So to be invited to the party on a sort of regular basis to me, it means that I am making a living making music, it means that I am having a career that has some kind of longevity. And that, to me, is my goal.”
Barlow’s dulcet tones have made her beloved in the jazz world and beyond for well over a decade (she’s also been doing TV voiceover work and sung on jingles since she was young).
For this year’s Junos, which will be held April 21 in Regina, the blue-eyed brunette is a contender for vocal jazz album of the year for “Seule ce soir.”
Her competition includes Diana Krall, Diana Panton, Carol Welsman and Elizabeth Shepherd.
“There’s no rivalry. There’s room for all of us,” said Barlow, 36.
“Diana Krall is generally present in the category and generally wins, and she deserves to. She’s amazing. She’s a great piano player, a great singer, so I have no problem, certainly, losing to her. And I’m very happy to be in the same category as her.”
It’s the same category for which four of Barlow’s other previous albums were in the running: 2001’s “Tribute,” 2007’s “The Very Thought Of You,” 2009’s “Haven’t We Met?,” and 2010’s “The Beat Goes On.”
But this album is much different than the others, as it features Francophone songs and is sung completely in French, which is not her first language.
Barlow said she learned French through high school in Toronto, where she grew up surrounded by music in an artistic family (both her parents are professional musicians, and her step-mother’s father was “The Friendly Giant” star Bob Homme).
The Humber College music theory grad picked up the language more as she started playing shows in Quebec, talking to fans after shows and “stumbling through interviews,” she said.
Barlow initially planned “Seule ce soir” as a compilation album of the French songs she’d previously recorded so she could pay her respect to the language and her fans in Quebec.
“Audiences in Quebec, generally speaking, are pretty emotive and when I walk out onstage there I get this immediate rush of enthusiasm and love and support, which in turn inspires my performance,” she said.
“So it becomes this cycle of energy and that is what I feel about Quebec in general, the people of Quebec. I feel like they’ve really welcomed and embraced me.”
But when Barlow listened to the previously recorded tunes, she felt a need to redo them and also add several new songs to the mix.
“It also served as a challenge for me, a musical challenge and a personal challenge to improve my skills in speaking French,” said Barlow, who’s also sung several songs in Brazilian Portuguese and voices a character on the animated TV series “Almost Naked Animals.”
“It’s also a musical challenge in the sense that I was working so hard on the accent but I didn’t want it to take away from the emotional impact of the performance.”
Given the poetic nature of the language, Barlow had no trouble losing herself in the lyrics of the tunes, which include the title track as well as “Petit matin” and “Chez moi.” Recording took place mostly in Toronto and a bit in Quebec.
“It was also a really hard year for me, personally, and recording this album was kind of like therapy,” said Barlow. “It was very cathartic because the French, they know how to do melancholy really well and it’s almost like it becomes very romantic and you can just wallow in this melancholy and it’s OK.”