By Al Kaufman
You know Jill Sobule. You know her as the woman who sang the 1995
hit, "I Kissed a Girl," which included a video starring Fabio. Her name
popped up again lately when Katy Perry recorded a completely different,
and ultimately inferior, song with the same title.
been consistently putting out the same clever and catchy music for the
last 14 years. She bounced around a couple of major labels, then joined
a few indie labels that went bankrupt. Never one to be totally
discouraged, Sobule took her cause online. She set up the Jill's Next Album website and asked her fans for money to help make her new CD. She raised over $85,000. The result is California Years, and all people who donated $1,000 or more are mentioned on the CD's last song, "The Donor Song."
The money didn't just go into making the record, but paid for the
talents of producer Don Was, drummer Jim Keltner, and the pressing,
distribution, marketing and advertising of the CD.
All the work was certainly worth the effort. Sobule's greatest
talent is her ability to make keen observations and turn them into
boppy three-minute songs. California Years focuses on her
move to the West Coast. Some of the songs seem frighteningly
autobiographical, but are also relatable, clever, funny, and often have
an "a-ha" moment or two. Was' decision to bring Sobule's vocals to the
forefront only adds to the more intimate sound. In "Nothing to Prove,"
an angry Sobule sees a sullen girl "at a meeting" dressed all in black.
She hates the girl for doing something that she herself went through
years before. But then she meets up with the girl later at a Trader
Joe's and likes her. "Nothing to Prove" also most readily displays
Sobule's occasionally barbed wit as she explains L.A.: "Everyone's in
the industry/And I hate when they use that word/And when they tell me
they're in the industry/I ask, 'Oh, are you in steel?'"
"Wendell Lee" is another supposedly autobiographical ditty, in which
she finds ex- boy- and girlfriends online. We find out that a girl name
Jenny was the person behind "I Kissed a Girl," and that that
relationship did not last long. We also realize that many of her exes
did not age well.
Other songs are just more clever, catchy, little gems that Sobule
does so well. "Spiderman" portrays all the actors on the West Coast
forced to make a living by donning costumes for tourists. "Princess
Leia got so trashed/She won't be coming back," she observes. "Palm
Springs," "San Francisco," "Where Is Bobby Gentry," (the singer of the
1967 hit "Ode to Billy Joe") "A Good Life," and "Mexican Pharmacy"
(which includes the vocal talents of one Jo Pottinger, who earned the
right after donating $10,000 to the project), are all strong pop songs
with melodies that will live in your heads for the rest of the day.
These songs deserve to be heard. Kudos to Sobule, and her fans, for
making it happen.