album reviews

Jill Sobule
California Years
Pinko Records (2009)

Jill Sobule hasn't had great luck with record labels: She has been dropped from two major ones and released albums on two indies that went out of business. So she took a different approach on her latest, "California Years": She got $85,000 in fan donations to finance the project.

The donation levels ranged in reward from a mention in the liner notes ($50) to a private house concert ($5,000). One fan's five-figure donation earned her the privilege of singing with Sobule on the track "Mexican Pharmacy."

Sobule may have alleviated the financial concerns of self-releasing an album, but that doesn't mean she has all of life's answers. The songs on "Years" tackle her struggle to find her footing in her new life in California, with equal parts sweetness and cynicism. From the strange new sights and sounds she experiences in "Palm Springs" to a masseuse's dreams of traveling to San Francisco ("San Francisco") and the record industry she sees up close on "Nothing to Prove," Sobule captures the stereotypical superficiality and idealism of her new home state without sounding cliched.

Her voice never sounds jaded, no matter what she's singing about. As Sobule recalls memories of past lovers on "Wendell Lee," she sounds more relieved than bitter, and even the doubts she expresses at entering a relationship ("Bloody Valentine") don't seem that scary in her sweet coo.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 15 May 2009, Page WE07
.: California Years on