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Such words sketch out tense scenarios, power games and loveplay. You may not know what kind of relationship is being negotiated, but that's the thrill. I Could Eat Your Words, from her 2002 album Verse (Blue Note, £12.99), seems to portray a tutor-student tryst: "Simplicity can charm the intellectual beast/ A three-word phrase will suffice." Clues, with a gorgeously icy string arrangement by Cliff Colnot, is even more mysterious: "If time had a sense of justice/ Could we go back and make it right?"
The song Pieces, featured on both Verse and the new album, spells out a more destructive situation:
Like many of Barber's songs, it has clever, asymmetrical rhythms. Yet Barber's time signatures have a purpose that's more emotional than intellectual. Her fives and sevens are like fractured versions of more even metres; the effect is that of a teasing seducer, tugging her lover towards her, then pushing him (or her) away. Played live in Paris, the newer version of Pieces is steamier, the erotic tension between nervous verse and slow, bluesy bridge more palpable.
Barber also includes a sneak preview of a new song cycle: Whiteworld augments the tiny number of songs that feature the words "pontoon plane". Another example (perhaps its inspiration) is Joni Mitchell's sublime travelogue Black Crow, jazzily reinterpreted earlier this year by Diana Krall. However, Barber's protagonist, a "first world Oedipus" in khaki who makes "a splash in a pontoon plane", is the villain. Barber's highly strung arrangement is a little like James Brown at 78rpm thanks to guitarist Neal Alger, who is superbly sympathetic throughout the album. When it comes to singing standards, Barber invests time-worn lyrics - Norwegian Wood, Call Me, Laura - with the arousing intelligence that informs her own songs. Not to everyone's taste, it is decidedly adult music.