CD Review of California Years by Jill Sobule
Jill Sobule: California Years
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Cyndi Lauper, Marykate O’Neil,
Lisa Loeb
Jill Sobule: California Years

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

ou could hardly blame Jill Sobule for feeling frustrated. With her sharpened wit and knack for crafting winning refrains, she’s shown her skill when it comes to solid and satirical songwriting. Sadly, though, she’s been greeted by little more than industry indifference for most of her career. Dropped by two major record labels in rapid succession, her initial efforts seemed to falter even before they had a chance to gain any real traction. And to make matters worse, Katy Perry’s novelty hit "I Kissed a Girl" has completely overshadowed the fact that Sobule’s song of the same name hit first… some 14 years earlier, in fact. Moreover, she’s been making her quirky, carefree music for nearly two decades while waiting patiently for the larger world to take notice. The fact that she funded this latest album through contributions from her fans makes that overall indifference all the more bewildering.

Sobule addresses the issue on "Nothing to Prove," a bold statement of self-affirmation that makes for one of the many high points on her wonderful new album, California Years. In it, she recalls a frustrating meeting with "a dying record company" and a "sullen girl who looks like she’s nineteen." While Sobule shows no hesitation when it comes to baring her bitterness, she also makes it clear she holds no lingering regrets. "Well, fuck you kid, I got nothing to prove… Once I was as miserable as you."

In fact, that’s a rare reproach on an album that’s mostly as sunny as its title implies. Sobule’s chirpy vocals have occasionally had some believing that she’s nothing more than a flighty folkie given to giddiness and gab. But while she does sometimes take a lighter view, her cast of collaborators – Don Was, Benmont Tench, Jim Keltner, Mark Goldenberg, and Greg Leisz, among them – affirms an unwavering emphasis on her credence and craft.

Jill Sobule

That’s especially evident given Sobule’s euphoric impression of the Golden State’s idyllic environs. Wistful images of cactus, coyotes, Gram Parsons and a statue of former mayor Sonny Bono are filtered through the lush "Palm Springs," while the equally sumptuous "San Francisco" borrows liberally from Scott McKenzie’s ’67 homage to hippies and the Haight. The singer whose sole hit recounted a tragic incident at the Tallahatchie Bridge forms the focus of "Where Is Bobbie Gentry?" and visions of an idealized promised land illuminate the glorious "Good Life." Still, for all its optimism, "While You Were Sleeping," "Wendell Lee" and "Bloody Valentine" find unfaithful lovers, doubts and disillusionment piercing the proceedings.

Nevertheless, Sobule doesn’t let disappointment stand in her way, and in "League of Failures" she reinforces her tenacity once more:

"And I’ll join the league of failures,
I bet that I’ll be glad,
To fall a hundred stories,
And I’ll have peace at least…"

Doubts aside, with this being the best album of her rollercoaster career, that last portion of Sobule’s prophecy seems all but certain to come true.

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