CD Review: Jill Sobule — California Years

JillSobuleCal Jill Sobule
California Years
Pinko Records

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.
Sobule has 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.


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