Every music genre is characterized by a unique style and specific instrumentation. For Canadian jazz singer/songwriter Chantal Chamberland her sensuous, smoky voice is her trademark instrument.
The Québec-born performer has just released her much-anticipated fifth jazz CD, Chantal Chamberland No. 5. Three years in the making, Chamberland says there was no rush to follow up 2008’s The Other Woman, as she wanted to meticulously select a collection of songs – mostly made famous by some of her musical idols – which would lend themselves to modern interpretations through her own creative license and those that best showcase her voice.
“I didn’t want to cover these songs just for the sake of recording them because they’ve already been established by other artists,” said Chamberland from her Southern Ontario home. “I had to feel comfortable that I could take these songs, pay tribute to the original artists, and still stamp them with my unique style to make them my own songs.”
Chamberland, who co-produced the CD with Bob Doidge and Amy King at Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton – says she’s also reached the phase as an artist where she wanted to strip down the production and instrumentation to focus more on her vocals and the stories behind each song.
“This record is going back to the basics and simplifying things,” said Chamberland. “The Other Woman was a big band, big production, big sound recording, which I’d always wanted to do. But this one, we stripped it down to a quartet – drums, bass, piano, sax – with guitar on some of the tracks.”
Like her previous jazz recordings: The Other Woman, Dripping Indigo, Serendipity Street and This Is Our Time, Chamberland included a French song on No. 5. “I actually went into the studio to record a French album and came out with an English one,” she laughs. “So now, I’m going to take the four French songs I have in the can, record several more, including an English one, and then release a French CD hopefully in the summer.”
In the end, Chamberland culled together a collection of deeply personal songs by some of the music industry’s most respected songwriters, recorded by artists who continue to inspire the chanteuse in her life and career.
In her own words, Chantal Chamberland describes each song on her new CD, No. 5:
“Love Me or Leave Me”: Nina Simone is one of my all-time favourite singers and I love her version of this song. I also like Peggy Lee’s version, so I put them both together and made it my own. I have to say, it was the most musically challenging song on this CD, but I’m thrilled by how it turned out.
“Feeling Good”: It’s one of those popular songs that everybody knows. And again, Nina Simone does an awesome version of it. I wanted to play guitar on the song so that when I play it live, it would sound like my recording. It wouldn’t have a big horn section; just strip it down to give it a little bit more of a jazz/rock flavour to it.
“Make Way for the Lady”: That’s an obscure Gordon Lightfoot song. My producer Bob Doidge had been encouraging me for years to record it. It’s a great song to cover with a jazz spin. And it only took 10 years to record it! I’m really glad I finally did as I think it’s a strong track on the CD.
“When I Look At You”: I wrote that song for my partner a long time ago while I was living in Montreal. It was one of my early attempts to write songs with a jazz feel to it. I tweaked it a bit before recording it. It’s a beautiful song and very meaningful to me personally.
“Still Crazy After All These Years”: That’s a Paul Simon song that has a special meaning to me. It’s one of my partner’s favourite songs of all time, and it was her late-father’s favourite song. So, it’s a personal song between us. I was nervous to record it because it’s such an amazing work of art. I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna record it and if it doesn’t sound right and I can’t pull it off, then I’m not gonna do it.” Luckily, I think I pulled it off and it’s the one song on here that my jazz fans will be surprised I covered.
“Nice and Easy”: That’s just a fun song. I loved Nancy Sinatra’s version of it. It’s a nice, lovely trio – drums, bass, piano – with no saxophone. It’s got great energy and a nice bass solo.
“Les Champs Elysées”: I recorded a few French songs with the intention of releasing an all-French album in the spring. On all of my English records, I always put one or two French songs on it. So, when I do my French record, I’ll payback and record one or two English ones for it. This one was one of my grandmother’s favourite artists – Joe Dassin.
“Hit The Road Jack”: That’s another fun song. It’s a Ray Charles classic that’s been recorded many times. It’s a standard that all jazz artists and fans know. I got the band involved vocally. It’s a great song for Amy King to showcase her background vocals. It’s my first jazz record with background vocals.
“Honeysuckle Rose”: One of my favourite musicals is New York, New York with Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro. There’s a great scene in a small, smoky bar where a woman is singing a dirty, sexy version of this song. She was wearing a gown and long white gloves. I love that performance.
“Infectious Slow”: This is my tribute to Shirley Horn. I co-wrote this song with my partner. We started writing it in Montreal. We got halfway done, then put it aside for a bit. Last year, we pulled it out and finished it off. Shirley Horn is infectious slow; she’s not in a hurry to get anywhere; she just eases into things, like she does when she’s singing.
“Get Out of Town”: This is my tribute to Rosemary Clooney. I love her version of this song. It’s just a fun song that really showcases the saxophone.
“You’re My Hero”: I wrote this song for my grandmother. We were very close. I’ve wanted to write for my grandmother for years. She died in September 1991 in Québec. People asked me why I didn’t write it in French. I don’t know. It’s just how the song came out. It’s also the first song I wrote on piano.
“Here’s To Life”: Shirley Horn’s most famous song that I recorded with just piano live off the floor in four takes. It was our wedding song. It was a song I debated whether or not to sing at all. It’s a sensitive song for me. I decided this is the right time to do it and the perfect song to close the album with. Of all the songs I’ve recorded, it’s my proudest moment – my most vulnerable moment.