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Music Reviews

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June 18, 1997

I Kissed a Girl

   

Jill SobuleJill Sobule, Happy Town (Atlantic 1997) - With Happy Town (her second major label release), Jill Sobule comes into her own as an alternative popwonder. If you think E (of Eels fame) knows how to make a great power pop album, then take a trip to Happy Town.

Sobule's first release generated the homo-erotic hit, "I Kissed a Girl," which was banned on several Southern radio stations. But that 1995 effort was too quirky for me. On Happy Town, Sobule eschews her eccentricities and focuses on searching girl pop, with glorious results.

Happy Town is another of those self-recorded labors of love; Sobule laid down almost all of the instrumentals, with guest appearances on guitar by Steve Earle and producer Richard Barone (ex-Bongos).

Highlights include "Half a Heart" and "Clever" (the hit single), both of which feature Alanis-style questioning/confrontational lyrics, and the title track ("Happy Town"), which has a Liz Phair flavor. More reflective is "Soldiers of Christ," which resembles Belinda Carlisle's post-Go-Gos work.

It's the surprises on Happy Town that make it such a pleasure. Thus, subtle blends of organs and horns create a richly-satisfying musical tapestry. Another terrific cut is the frank, "Love is Never Equal."

A delight from start to finish (though the cheesy album cover leaves a lot to be desired), Happy Town is a solid pop contender. Don't judge this album by its cover.

That DogThat Dog, Retreat from the Sun (Geffen/DGC 1997) - According to the old saying, the third time's a charm. And that's certainly true for That Dog, whose third major label release is power pop dynamite.

Retreat from the Sun marks the first time that That Dog has used an outside producer (Brad Wood, who has worked with Liz Phair and Veruca Salt). And it shows. Retreat from the Sun is a much more focused and polished effort, employing a variety of instruments (including cello, synthesizer, and even french horn) to create a full pop feeling.

That Dog is fronted by 24-year-old Anna Waronker, who acts as singer, songwriter, and spokesperson. Rounding out the band is Rachel Haden on bass and vocals, sister Petra Haden on violin and vocals, and Tony Maxwell on drums and percussion.

Retreat from the Sun has a solid alternative pop feel, with some of the British edginess evidenced by Elastica and Lush (whose 1996 release, Lovelife, was an unrecognized gem).

The band's signature three-part harmonies and idiosyncratic violin have been expanded by Anna's discovery of the piano, which she taught herself to play. Says Anna, "Charlotte Caffey (formerly of the Go-Go's) came over on New Year's Eve 1996, and played 'Head Over Heels' on my piano after midnight. I was intrigued by the way she plays, and practiced 'Head Over Heels' for days afterwards."

With songs like "Gagged and Tied" and "Long Island," singer Waronker walks a fine line between pop sweetheart and alternative bitch. Yet she's not afraid to let her guard down, as reflected on songs like, "Cowboy Hat." And who couldn't love a three-minute pop ditty, complete with broken-hearted love story, named after my hometown ("Minneapolis")?

Retreat from the Sun shows the benefits that result from good production work. That Dog channeled its talents to create a pop delight, which will charm you all summer long.

Peter HolsapplePeter Holsapple, Out of My Way (Monkey Hill Records 1997) - With a recording career stretching 20 years, including stints with the 80's pop group the dB's and most recently, the Continental Drifters, Peter Holsapple has a reputation as a consummate musician, songwriter, and producer. Out of My Way, his first solo release, is an uneven slice of power-pop, with Holsapple supplying most of the instruments and vocals.

During the past two years, Holsapple has been most visible as Hootie and the Blowfish's utility musician, playing guitars, mandolin, organ, piano, and accordion. Holsapple also opened Hootie's shows during a three-week European jaunt last winter.

In fact, Holsapple plays so many instruments that he can hardly list them. Yet he draws from a talented circle of friends for the new album, including Carlo Nuccio on drums, Benmont Tench on keyboards, wife Susan Cowsill on backing vocals, and Vicki Peterson (ex-Bangles) on backing vocals.

Holsapple recorded Out of My Way during a six-year period, which, frankly, shows. Out of My Way does not have a cohesive center, although some of the cuts are brilliant. In particular, the title track ("Out of My Way") is a great slice of power-pop.

Albums that are recorded over too many years, or with too many producers, usually don't gel. And that's the problem with Out of My Way; the pudding never quite sets. Though the ingredients are tasty indeed.

-- Randy Krbechek
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