Recordings | Feb. 26, 2015
By Cait Brennan, Feb. 26, 2015.
Jellyfish | Bellybutton / Spilt Milk | Omnivore Recordings |
For a brief, shining moment in the ‘90s, it seemed like power pop was making a comeback, with such bands as Material Issue, the La’s, Matthew Sweet, Michael Penn and Aimee Mann producing joyous, irresistible songs that captured the spirit of ‘60s pop. But no band captured the power pop revival better than Jellyfish. The San Francisco band released only two albums in their brief tenure, but both are highly sought-after classics, and now Grammy-winning label Omnivore Recordings has reissued Bellybutton (and its follow-up, Spilt Milk) in deluxe style, making these treasures available to a new audience.
Drawing on influences as diverse as XTC, the Raspberries, the Beach Boys and Queen, keyboard player Roger Manning and Andy Sturmer set out to capture the harmonies, catchy hooks and energy of ‘60s and ‘70s pop, with hints of psychedelia and Paisley Underground flair. MTV hit “The King Is Half Undressed” is a sugar-rush sonic delight, with an undeniable chorus and Beatlesque ambition; it’s their best-known song and the perfect distillation of what they’re about. “Baby’s Coming Back” echoes the Partridge Family theme in a song that could have been a hit for 10cc, and songs like “Now She Knows She’s Wrong” and the funky “That Is Why” carry on the theme. Omnivore has unearthed a king’s ransom of bonus tracks, including early demos, alternate takes and live covers of hits by Paul McCartney, Donovan and the Archies.
Spilt Milk, the lesser but still great follow-up album featuring a fractured version of the lineup, gets a similar deluxe treatment, and both albums get lively, well-researched liner notes from Ken Sharp, with rare photos and memorabilia that put the band’s history in perspective. Jellyfish has been an essential influence on modern pop music, and thanks to Omnivore, you can hear them for yourself.
Brandi Carlile | The Firewatcher’s Daughter | ATO Records |
Seattle singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile’s given us some of the most passionate music of the past 10 years. Is there a greater song in the history of recorded music than “The Story”? No, there is not. She’s eclectic, honest and powerful, and The Firewatcher’s Daughter might be the most rock-and-roll album of her storied career.
It’s an album of new beginnings for the singer; after a decade with Columbia, Carlile moved to indie darlings ATO Records. On top of that, Carlile’s wife Catherine Shepherd was nine months pregnant during the recording process. The Firewatcher’s Daughter captures that spirit with a raw, fresh energy and heartfelt vulnerability. Although it’s Carlile who gets marquee billing, Carlile and bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth (aka “the Twins”) function as full collaborators, and the three have never sounded better. Recorded mostly in one or two takes, the songs have an immediacy and warmth that over-baked major label productions often lack.
“You can dance in a hurricane, but only if you’re standing in the eye,” Carlile sings in the album’s first single, “The Eye,” a gorgeous soul-searching ballad with strong folk and country influences. Carlile and the Twins make a great song even greater with tight, soaring harmonies that wouldn’t be out of place on a Louvin Brothers album. “Blood, Muscle, Skin & Bone” lives up to its title with a sinewy rock groove and a killer hook.
“Wherever Is Your Heart” kicks it with a gentle Tennessee Three shuffle before exploding into a glorious rock star chorus. Freed from the stultifying major label shackles that grind the life out of most songs, Carlile sings like a woman possessed, channeling Roy Orbison and Lucinda Williams in equal measure. It’s a beautiful listen and her best work to date.