Jonatha Brooke: Back In The Circus
By jsolof on Dec 27, 2004
I had been hearing some of Jonatha Brooke's singles on the local grownup radio station: Linger, from 2001's Steady Pull, and from her most recent release, Better After All and her cover of Alan Parsons' Eye In The Sky. The customer reviews on Amazon.com were somewhat mixed, but I really liked the singles -- just not enough to go out and buy the thing. (I know, I know, I need an iPod -- just that I need a new computer to manage it first!)
Then one foggy Chrismas Eve, overcome by last-minute shopping pheremones, what started out as an expedition in search of things for the family turned into a game of "one for you, one for me", the latter being this CD.
I think I agree with the (mixed) reviews.
A lot on this album sounds familiar. Sleeping With The Light On reminded me of Shawn Colvin's haunting Another Plane Went Down (with the same echoes of 9/11). The over-caffeinated drumming on Less Than Love Is Nothing is right out of David Gray's irritating Please Forgive Me. And there's a three chord riff in the refrain to It Matters Now that reminded me very much of Sarah McLachlan's Building A Mystery (far from her best work, in my far from humble opinion). There are hints of Joan Osborne too, and a little Sheryl Crow sprinkled in, and traces of Shawn Colvin all over the place. In other words, parts of this album struck me as being very derivative, very "second-tier girl with guitar"-ish.
At the same time, the title cut, Better After All, Sally, and No Net Below, are really first-rate pieces in their own right, with their own (not-borrowed) sound. (Okay, No Net Below sounds just like Shawn Colvin's I'll Say I'm Sorry Now, but I still like it.) Which is in sharp contrast to two of the covers she includes on this disc: James Taylor's Fire And Rain is absolutely, bizarrely off-kilter -- the dippy arrangement clashes with the anguishing lyrics -- and God Only Knows is unremarkable at best. (God only knows why she did these covers, if you ask me -- even the arrangements are very Radio Shack keyboard.) At the same time, she knocks Eye In The Sky out of the park. She really puts her heart into it, and makes it her own. Which is the whole point now, isn't it?
If she were asking me for advice -- music expert that I am -- it would be simple. "Do your own thing." When she is most original, she is truly outstanding. When she's paying homage to those who have, and that which has, gone before, she veers between unremarkable and cheesy. But the upside potential is huge.
I will be back for more.