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The Upshot: Vinyl swansong for the beloved pop/punk femme-rockers finds Jeannette Kantzalis referencing her past and laying the groundwork for future endeavors via rockin’ nuggets and torchy gems.
BY FRED MILLS
Inland Empire rock vixen Jeannette Kantzalis first pinged the rock radar circa ’92 as Jeannette Katt, whose Pink Mischief album was issued by A&M and remains a genuine, not-necessarily-guilty, pleasure. The label, sadly, dropped the ball, marketing-wise, unsure of what to do with a gifted, assertive female songwriter who declined the opportunity to be pigeonholed into either the Courtney Love or the Indigo Girls camps. Most folks, however, remember The Artist Formerly Known As Katt from her subsequent tenure fronting all-girl Cali band The Chubbies, a beloved Sympathy For The Record Industry label mainstay that started out as a solo vehicle for the young Kantzalis but at various points would operate as a duo (with her friend Christene Kings) and even a trio in order to tour and record more extensively. 1997’s Tres Flores remains a must-hear thanks to standout tracks such as the punkish “Play Me,” the torchy “I’m Not That Girl” and the irresistibly anthemic “Didjahaftasaythat?” (Consult eBay and Discogs to get your fix, and quite a few Chubbies titles—including the relatively recent archival title Official Greatest Hits that Kantzalis released via her own The Kitten Next Door label—can be grabbed digitally at Bandcamp.)
In any event, here’s a lot of intriguing history here worth tucking into, particularly for fans of never-say-die DIY punk, distaff punk/garage and classic girl-group pop. Along the way Kantzalis has operated an indie record store, started a family, and at one point put together a short-lived, power pop-tilting band called the Tragic Hearts. Yours truly, reporting on the latter, commented, “A three-guy/one-gal combo [whose] pulchritudinous vocalist/guitarist teases you with her coquettish, Bangles-esque come-on while the band unleashes brawny garage raveups. Yet the Hearts aren’t out to indulge a retro vision of power pop, and by injecting a vigorous, punkish vibe they ultimately come off as contemporary—‘alt-power-pop,’ as their Web site bills ‘em.”
More recently, she’s been releasing music under the name A Brokeheart Pro, which both incorporates elements of, and builds upon, her previously-laid musical groundwork. To date there’s been 2007’s The Kitten Next Door and 2012’s Josephine the Outlaw King—the latter also sharing its title with a noirish Kantzalis-penned novel—along with material posted online both at SoundCloud and at YouTube, including a series of cover songs by the likes of Ryan Adams, Portishead, Old 97’s and the Gin Blossoms.
As the musician herself put it not all that long ago at Facebook, “I’ve always been fascinated with the crossbreeding of styles by accident or because of curiosity. The melding of rock and soul, mostly. I used to devour stories about the working class ethics of the Beatles, Bowie, Prince… how they’d show up when they were supposed to and respect the time and talents of others. I found so few in the music world I was in. I suppose that’s why I ended up teaching myself how to do everything. I never found anyone who wanted to put in the hours, who found music’s creation so intoxicating they just didn’t want to stop creating it.”
That sure sounds like a mission statement to these ears. Kantzalis, throughout her myriad musical explorations, has garnered a loyal fanbase enamored of her instinctive tunefulness and forceful-yet-silky arrangements, piqued by her charismatic, provocative style of lyricism and delivery, and impressed by, yes, her work ethic. All that, plus the aforementioned intrigue, rears its head with the new self-released Jive and Honey. Kantzalis bills the album as her Chubbies swansong, writing in the record’s liner notes how the band “started off with just me, playing, writing, performing and producing everything by myself in my garage on my 8-track” and how now, in 2016, “that’s how I’m ending it,” with eight songs pressed up on limited edition vinyl (or available digitally) via CDBaby. It kicks off with the part-cautionary/part-defiant “Gotta Get Away” which, against a thrumming guitar/bass/drums backdrop that’s classic Chubbies (particularly with the three-part backing harmonies), smartly sets the stage for what’s to come…
“Let me get out of this sticky conversation,” Kantzalis sneers, at the start of brittle, Nuggets-worthy garage raveup “The Quiet Ones,” adding suggestively, “Words turn to glue in a bad conversation/ I see you across the room contemplating/ I think I need more of what you’re not saying…”. That’s followed by “He’s Got A Way,” all sweet ‘n’ sour, shadows ‘n’ sunshine, one minute serving up come-ons (“he’s got a way about him”), and then the next, confessions (“I can’t take it back”). Side A then closes out on the delightfully Sixties-ish pop of “Wonderful,” a sweeping, pledging-my-love anthem. Flip the record to cue up the New Wavey electropop of “I Am Jeannette,” which doubles as a personal manifesto and—spoiler alert—a career summation lyrically referencing the artist’s past. You want manifestos? Try on “I’m A Rebel,” a sleek-but-stilettoed Blondie-styled slice of drama that leaves multiple earworms in its wake. Then Kantzalis opts to turns cinematic, first with the Spector-esque girl-group pop of “Stay Right Here (Flynn’s Song)” and finally, to complete the cycle, the luminous “I Wasn’t Looking For Trouble.” The latter, with its jazzy sway and darkly sensual lyrics (“trouble came looking for me… I ached with a low burning glow”), is pure Dusty Springfield—and, in its echoes of that much earlier “I’m Not That Girl,” is also pure Chubbies.
It’s a fitting conclusion for this long-running musical project. Way back when, on the group’s first album, Kantzalis announced I’m the King. Here, on the final release, she declares, “I Am Jeannette,” firmly taking hold of her Chubbies legacy, putting it proudly up on the shelf, and clearing the table for what’s to come. “I conquered anger, I conquered fear,” she confesses, adding, “They tried to kill me but I’m still here”—then threatening, “I could break your heart.”
Indeed she did. Indeed she is. And indeed she could.
DOWNLOAD: “The Quiet Ones,” “I’m A Rebel,” “I Wasn’t Looking For Trouble”