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Patricia Barber: The Premonition Years: 1994-2002

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It was as if a skylark had swallowed a bassoon that first moment singer/pianist Patricia Barber opened her mouth: a blues-hooting, nervously flitting bird with smartly semantic wiseacre lyrics beating her own drum vocally and rhythmically. Forget that her poorly titled albums seemed to signal some ersatz beat revivalism. Hers was a thoroughly modern listen whether tackling the classics or crafting bold new tunes low and slowly. And, OK, there was a hint of the beatnik chick chic to her-the dark hair framing a sunglass-filled face, the smoky bar brand of small-band arrangements, the algebraic Aesop-sopped texts.

Barber’s not dead. Mythologies came in 2006 and was a character-acted-out affair based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Guggenheim fellowship and all. But before that searing song cycle, Barber made five records for Premonition (1994’s Cafe Blue, ’98’s Modern Cool, ’99’s Companion, 2000’s Nightclub, 2002’s Verse), celebrated in this box in three categories: “pop song,” “standards” and “originals.”

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