For Juno award winning singer Emilie Claire Barlow, there never was a Plan B. No day jobs or fallback plans in case music didn’t work out. “I’ve always been a singer,” she said. “I just knew that’s what I was, who I was and what I was always going to do.” It has been so much in her blood from the start that the Toronto born jazz vocalist and arranger remembers that she learned to read music around the same time she learned to read words. “It was part of our language,” Barlow said, remembering childhood trips to recording studios with her parents, drummer Brian Barlow and singer Judy Tate.
When she was 7, Barlow was recruited to deliver the kid’s line in a jingle her mother was recording for Tide. The child’s natural, untrained voice, reliably in tune, guaranteed work in radio and television ads from the beginning. That unaffected quality of Barlow’s vocals has deepened with sophistication over the years, along with her phrasing and astonishing pitch, but the vulnerability and warmth at the core of her approach are still intact. No over sung melismas are to be found in her body of work. Holly Cole was an early source of inspiration for Barlow. “She has a unique voice. And there was a chemistry with her musicians. She takes a song and completely reimagines it, reinvents it. That’s what I do,” Barlow said, mentioning Bobby McFerrin, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Kurt Elling, Sarah Vaughan, Joni Mitchell and the jazz vocal group The Singers Unlimited as other important artists who caught her ear. But the idea has always been to take risks, not to imitate.