Jill Sobule’s latest album, California Years started with a common enough tale: artist signs to label, label drops artist or goes bankrupt, artist suddenly has a mess of homeless songs.
Instead of feeling sorry for herself or taking a chance on yet another label (she had been through four) Jill launched a website and started taking donations from fans to finance her new project.
Of course, there were prizes for donations ranging from a copy of the CD all the way up to a chance to be on the album. It worked, Jill raised $85,000 – enough to cover the whole process. Could she have done it for less, using GarageBand and her laptop? Well, yeah, but she wanted to make a quality album.
This brings us to the actual album. With 13 songs, plus a final ditty with Jill singing the names of some of the donors (the ones who donated $500 or more) it bounces from hilarious to profound and back again. It’s also filled with catchy bits of melody and an assortment of instruments. On the first listen her words could be dismissed as “simple,” but Jill lets is a master at using her acute sense of sarcasm and a well-developed quirkiness instead of a thesaurus.
Like the first five of Jill’s albums there are a wide cast of characters. There’s a former boyfriend that Jill looked up online (Wendell Lee), someone who feels anonymous until donning a superhero costume (Spiderman) and a disappearing rock star (Where is Bobbie Gentry? which borrows riffs from “Ode to Billy Joe”).
There are some more personal (but still relatable) songs as well, like Nothing To Prove (detailing parts of Jill’s life in Los Angeles with the super singable refrain “Nothing to prove/Once I was as miserable as you”) and Palm Springs, although anyone who’s ever driven I-10 to the city will identify with some of the lyrics.
Other tunes not to skip include A Good Life and League of Failures.
Produced by the legendary Don Was, California Years is a triumphant success not only for Jill, but for the future of independent music.