wears the trousers magazine

jill sobule: california years (2009)
May 18, 2009, 12:53 pm
Filed under: album, mp3, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Jill Sobule
California Years •••½

Criminally underrated singer-songwriter Jill Sobule took matters into her own hands following the liquidation of Artemis Records in 2006, launching a website designed to raise $75,000 for the production and promotion of her next release. Blessed with a small but incredibly devoted fanbase, the money was raised in under two months and the Denver-born artist now repays that loyalty with her seventh studio album California Years, an organic affair that shines the spotlight on her warm voice and quirky, anecdotal lyrical style. Based on her experiences of relocating to Los Angeles from New York, the songs have a conversational, storytelling flavour, from the anthemic ‘Nothing To Prove’ – a feisty account of a business meeting where the narrator is “trying to impress someone at a dying record company” – to the sunny travelogue ‘Mexican Pharmacy’ with its gentle, Latin-style guitar.

The music is unfailingly melodic and the arrangements utilise acoustic guitars, banjos and pedal steel to evoke a California that is sometimes nostalgic (‘Palm Springs’) and sometimes incisive (‘San Francisco’). Sobule’s imagery is clear and effective rather than trite and clichéd, and her references to Brian Wilson and Gram Parsons contribute to the overarching feeling of an outsider observing her new surroundings with a keen eye for detail. Sobule satirises LA’s shallow celebrity culture on the aforementioned ‘Nothing To Prove’, which comes off as a kind of mantra for the singer as she repeats “I have nothing to prove / once I was as miserable as you”, while on the wry ‘Spiderman’ she sings “I moved out here from Evansville seven years ago / the first week I’m an extra on, well, you know, that TV show”.

Her lyrics throughout are keenly observational and funny, but Sobule also does hard-hitting with aplomb, as on the delicate ‘While You Were Sleeping’ where she likens the freedom of being away from a doomed relationship to “a prisoner on his first day out”, before remarking that she feels she has “grown two inches”. On ‘Empty Glass’ she brings in violent imagery of gouging, slicing and cutting as she tackles the weighty topic of death. Musically, too, a range of styles are tried out, from the bluesy pop culture aside ‘Where Is Bobbie Gentry’ with its grittier vocal delivery, to the introspective ‘League Of Failures’, a wistful album highlight with its opening Neil Young reference mutating into one of the album’s richest and most beautiful ballads.

The album sags slightly in the middle due to the back-to-back sequencing of downbeat songs, but Sobule’s trademark humour is back in force for the charming ‘Wendell Lee’, a witty tale of the singer looking up past lovers online, married to an instantly engaging melody. There is simultaneous humour and pathos in a line like, “Oh Billy, my, how you changed / you lost your hair and gained that weight / I wonder if I look that bad too”. Ending an album full of sunny melodies, introspective ballads and offbeat storytelling on a suitably warming note, ‘The Donor Song’ is Sobule’s loving tribute to the fans who financed the project. Delivered with Sobule’s reliably winning cheek and unaffected vocal style, California Years won’t win any awards for innovation but as attractive folk-pop albums go it’s hard to beat.

Matt Barton
UK release date: 14/04/09; www.myspace.com/jillsobule


FREE MP3: Jill Sobule, ‘San Francisco’


‘San Francisco’ [directed by Margaret Cho]


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[…] 27 Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake [Charlotte Richardson Andrews 9/4] 28 Jill Sobule – California Years [Matthew Barton 18/5] 29 Tara Jane O’Neil – A Ways Away [James M Johnston 26/5] 30 […]

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