CD Review of City Beach by Jill Cunniff

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City Beach
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: The Militia Group
Released: 2007
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Jill Cunniff, former lead singer of the alt-pop girl group Luscious Jackson, spent enough time away from the spotlight raising two kids that her new solo effort can be considered a feel-good comeback story. But one listen to City Beach might have you wondering where Jill has been all your life, because this is not just a comeback album – it’s bordering on spectacular.

There is a certain urban flair in some artists than can only be described as “New York City cool.” It’s a sophisticated, jazzy flavor that those of you who grew up in New York City can instantly point to, but those of you who didn’t might not get right away. Cunniff has that flair, and it’s evident on this album. She’s also got a knack for writing hooky, intelligent music that transcends genres and is extremely listenable.

The album kicks off with “Lazy Girls,” a shuffling, guitar-crunching track that will stick in your head like pine tar on a bat. “Happy Warriors” has some horns and cool background vocals, and it brings to mind early ‘90s songstress Lisa Stansfield – but that isn’t totally fair, because Jill is light-years cooler than Lisa. Maybe it’s because she’s friends with the Beastie Boys, or maybe because as a young mom she still has lots of sex appeal. But I digress.

“Eye Candy” is probably the catchiest track on here, but so are the distortion-infused “Love Is a Luxury” and hypnotically hip “Exclusive.” Cunniff really shines on moody slow tempo songs like “Calling Me” or “Kaleidoscope,” but she also shows her punk roots on the boisterous “Future Call.” Finally, there is a guest appearance by the legendary Emmylou Harris on the introspective “Disconnection.”

If it takes life experience and a recharging of the batteries for artists like Jill Cunniff to produce amazing music, then maybe more artists should follow that approach. Being prolific is good, but sometimes too much of a good thing has diminishing returns. In Cunniff’s case, it’s like being away from New York City for a few years, then tasting that city’s pizza again for the first time in a long time. Luscious, indeed.

~Mike Farley