In my second article about albums by female artists that have really influenced me and really become a part of my life and history, I bring you Jonatha Brooke's 10 Cent Wings and Steady Pull.
I was never really a fan of the show Felicity – probably because by the time it came out I was in my thirties and married and clearly beyond the demographic of the show. However, being the complete sucker for beauty and makeup articles that I am, I happened upon a profile of the show's pretty star, Keri Russell, in some magazine in which she mentioned a few of her favorite things. Listed there among her to die for lipstick shade and her favorite flower or some such thing was musical artist Jonatha Brooke — a female singer, whom they had used on the show and that she really loved. She described Brooke as having a beautiful voice and deep, meaningful lyrics. Hmmm, I thought this is someone I haven't heard of and is worth checking out. (Not knowing what deep and meaningful meant to a Hollywood starlet, I wasn't sure what I was in for.)
After researching Brooke online, however, I was pretty darn impressed. I decided to purchase her second album, which was actually her first complete solo effort, 10 cent Wings. (Brooke was originally part of a duo at Amherst College with singer Jennifer Kimball called The Story.) The album is just gorgeous. I climbed into it and didn't come out for months. Brooke's voice is pure and clear, her songs are deep and thought-provoking, the harmonies and arrangements so beautiful with just a touch of dissonance thrown in there once in awhile to keep you on your toes. You will ask yourself "why have I not heard of this gal?" and your heart will just cry out for more.
Standout tracks are:
#1: "Secrets and Lies" - "Once a year the holidays come swinging at your head, feast until you're full of pain again." I mean, really, who — with all of our family dysfunction (and you know you have it, dear hearts) — cannot relate to that line? Inspired by the movie Secrets and Lies, Brooke wrote a truly great song dealing with the passage of time and its effect on us and those we love.
#2: "Crumbs" - "I can tell, by the way you're pushing crumbs around the table, you're not listening to me; and you say, that you've come as far as you are able, but you're not far from the tree." Wow, that song just really resonated with me, and probably will with a lot of people who have felt frustrated with a friend or loved one. Plus, sonically this track is just so pretty — one of my two favorite songs on the album.
#4: "Blood from a Stone" - "Silence has become our only currency; you pay me and I'll be sure to pay you back." You can just feel the pain dripping out of the speakers on this one. The words of this song come back to me time and time again as I deal with my family, or hear about others with family issues. Brooke really nails it. (Interesting side note here: Brooke's mother's maiden name was Stone.) I defy you not to have this song stuck in your head.
#7: "Last Innocent Year" - Just melodically a beautiful song.
#8: "Genius or a Fool" – Brooke at her sexy, suggestive, bluesy best "I'm comfortable in hush puppies, or fishnets and a dress.". As any Brooke fan will tell you, she is fabulous live and this song is one of her fan favorites. Every audience member knows the words to this song, which is really about wanting to be cool and finally just not caring anymore. By the way, fishnets and a dress have become her trademark (check out her album covers).
#9: "10 Cent Wings" - This title track is such a heartrending song of sadness and longing. This is my other favorite from the album and it focuses on just the piano, her clear voice and these beautiful lyrics:
"Ten cent wings, tried and true, in another life, you are with me, and I'm with you; Ten cent wings, tried and true, orbiting like satellites, I'll sail away with you." For anyone who's lost a loved one, these lyrics combined with the haunting melody will stay with you long after the music has ended.
I found I enjoyed this album because it wasn't stereotypically chick music: it's not pop, it's not "folk," it's not rock. I personally feel Brooke really can't be classified into any particular genre. She's been educated musically and she writes all her own music and lyrics; she's a smart, intelligent woman who can sing, well. Most likely she hasn't found a wider audience precisely because she can't be specifically classified, and that is what we love to do here in America — if you don't have a genre, you're a goner.
Brooke has a huge following in Europe from constantly touring and performing live; she has more of a cult following here in the States — we are few but we are proud. (Note: the Gay and Lesbian community has warmly embraced her for years. There were rumors that she was gay or bisexual; and although she recently married — a man, she continues to have that community's support.)
Around 2001, I was thrilled to discover that Jonatha had a new album coming out called Steady Pull. I bought the album the day it came out and was floored at her new, harder sound and how much I loved it. I even heard a few songs on the radio — shocker. Being a huge fan of Crowded House, I was also excited to discover that she had an amazing duet with Neil Finn; track 8, "New Dress," without a doubt one of the top songs on the album.
Herein, my favorite tracks:
#2: "How Deep is your Love" - This is just a great funky, cool song that shows off her new sound. More guitars and sexier sounding than her last album, this song really has a suggestive bent to it, musically and lyrically — trying a new love on for size. Catch the Wurlitzer!
#3: "Walking" - a dark song that's beautifully done; it almost has a marching quality to it. Clever. The words are simple yet haunting.
#4: "Red Dress" - She mentions dresses a lot on this album; this song is as hot as you would think from the title. A destructive relationship is examined, split open and apart.
#5: "Room in my Heart" - "…And nothing mattered, nothing but the moment, some days made perfect sense, some days never fit. But there was room in my heart for you, room in my heart for you." This song is one of my favorites. It's just so pretty, musically. Lots of beautiful harmonies mixed with a deep bass — awesome.
#7: "Your House" - Such a great track. We've all been there — in the throes of a new love, the heady state of a new relationship. "I will walk the way in,
You'll take the journey out; Path across our hearts, eyes wide open." This song beautifully captures that exact moment, where you are still deciding what you want to share of yourself, yet you know there's no going back. Gorgeous.
#8: "New Dress" - As I said, this duet with Neil Finn is truly a gift to us. Both singers are technicians of harmony; they easily slip in and out of different ranges of harmonies and meld their voices beautifully. You really have to listen to this track multiple times to enjoy it fully. Plus the lyrics are so cool (another dress song — yet still, so great). I won't spoil it for you. The fact that this song got little to no air play is a tragedy, in my opinion. Perhaps it will be used in a movie one day and Brooke and Finn will get their due.
#9: "Lullaby" - Not like any lullaby you've ever heard before, Brooke is the queen of throwing in dissonance when you least expect it; that's what you get here. This is a great way for her to end the album; a warning, perhaps? Don't get too comfortable, because you never know what she's going to do next.
It was around this time, maybe 2002, that I had the chance to see Jonatha live at a small venue in Orange County, CA where I live. The place was packed (clearly she has a few fans in the OC) and she was terrific. Brooke was with a full band, played several guitars — acoustic and electric — at all times (or a tambourine), and even did a few solo numbers. Not a note was off key and she played for over an hour and a half. (I am happy to report I am now the proud owner of a "JBro" t-shirt.) I would see her again in a heartbeat.
Brooke independently produces all her own albums on Bad Dog Records. This is perhaps another reason why she has avoided mainstream success; however, she has succeeded in garnering critical praise for her recent music and Disney has hired her to contribute songs to their Tinkerbell series of fairy movies, part two of which was recently released. She also wrote a song for the soundtrack of their Peter Pan 2 story.
I highly recommend you check out Jonatha Brooke — I've listened to her new albums and though they are great, of course, these are the two I keep coming back to. She's not a power singer; she's more a singing technician; the songs are just so perfectly crafted and meticulously structured, from each individual instrument to each layer of vocal, combined with her fabulous deeply-rooted lyrics — well, Brooke just is a rare sparkling jewel that I hope you will listen to and enjoy like I do.
Or share with a friend as a gift — as this holiday season "comes swinging at your head."