By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Coming out, growing up
Jonatha Brooke can zing eloquent barbs at her self-absorbed lovers and spill poetry like water when smacked with a doe-eyed crush. She's also blessed with a beautiful cornflower-colored voice that cartwheels and jigs on command like a circus monkey. Her latest CD, Ten Cent Wings, brings all these talents into play. As she lays out a cast of familiar, complicated people and situations and sums them up them one by one, she makes it look very easy to have the last word.
This is Brooke's second solo CD since dissolving her former vehicle, The Story, and she is clearly stronger for the choice to go her own way. Brooke's formidable songwriting is enhanced by crystalline production. Crisp, ringing acoustic guitars, throbbing Wurlitzer organs, and a live-percussion sound counter sweeping waves of keyboards, strings, and electric guitar in a satisfying mix of styles and textures. Nowhere do all the elements come together better than in "Crumbs," as the soft admonition of a self-pitying drama addict becomes a full-throated assault on denial and doubt. "And you say you're OK, but you live your life like it's over," Brooke wails, her voice dive-bombing as the music soars.
But this is not Angry Young Woman, Volume 16. "I swirl your name around my tongue like a dare" she sings playfully in "Last Innocent Year," and this bold romanticism gives the record a sparkle that permeates even her darkest meditations. Ten Cent Wings is Brooke's long-delayed coming-out party, and her best collection of songs to date.
End of Summer
Razor & Tie
Dar Williams has always kind of teetered on the edge of pop culture's "sensitive chick" abyss, into which we toss anything judged too emotionally bare, too sappy, or too real. Sometimes you're tempted to give Williams the fatal nudge, but something always stays your hand--the way she arranges her songs, perhaps, or her skewed but insightful sense of lyric and ability to marry emotion and melody.
With End of the Summer she retreats from the brink altogether, capitalizing on her strengths to an unprecedented degree. Williams served notice of her talent with The Honesty Room (1995), but the next year's Mortal City was too much like it, spare and introspective. With Summer, Williams enters the realm of pop, but not at the expense of depth or message. There's still enough thoughtful balladry for longtime fans. Broader appeal isn't necessarily a sign of artistic maturity, but Summer proves that the two are by no means mutually exclusive.