California Years is Jill Sobule’s fuck-you to the
music industry, and its backstory threatens to obscure the music itself. In
something akin to the tradition of patronage in the arts, Sobule financed the
album by soliciting donations from fans, granting them perks for various levels
of monetary contributions: advanced copies of the album, free admission to
shows, personalized theme songs, a mention in “The Donor Song” that ends the
album. The contributions added up to a remarkable $85,000. She hired Don Was to
produce, Jim Keltner for drums and Greg Leisz for pedal steel, booked the
studio that midwifed Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Carole King’s Tapestry, and then
released the album on her own Pinko Records. Patronage is one solution to the
conundrum of the dying record industry, especially for an older artist who has
no patience for youngsters at record labels looking for a marketable product.
“Well fuck you, kid, I’ve got nothing to prove,” she quips in her still girlish
voice, and she deserves kudos for pulling off this project.
Of course, all that wouldn’t matter if the album didn’t turn out well. While it
won’t convert anyone who finds her cleverness cloying, California Years ranks with Sobule’s best work.
Ever since “I Kissed A Girl,” her 1995 hit (which Katy Perry did not cover recently), Sobule’s been an
expert at blurring the line between disposable novelty, insightful satire and
emotional introspection. Sobule moved to Los Angeles from NYC not long ago, and
California Years casts a querulous
eye on California culture in songs such as “Palm Springs,” “San Francisco” and
“Mexican Pharmacy.” She claims she’s the baby that was tossed off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie
Joe” and pens her own ode to Spiderman. Many of these songs begin with Sobule
strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a catchy lilting melody that can
resemble a children’s nursery rhyme, but they often open up into full-blooded
rock arrangements that add heft and import to the wispy beginnings. Sobule
lumps herself in with the “League Of Failures” in one song, but the success of California Years, both as a business project and
an artistic one, belies that claim.
Standout Tracks: “Nothing to Prove,”
“Where Is Bobbie Gentry?” STEVE KLINGE