Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh JOY. How I love thee.

June 17th brought the promise of JOY! It was 2 days before my birthday and Jenny Owen Youngs gave the perfect gift by finally coming back to LA to perform at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. If you haven’t heard of her, perhaps you didn’t read my past reviews on her album “Transmitter Failure” and her side project “Bell Horses.” Well, if you’re reading this review, then I can’t stress enough what a talent this young woman is. If you’re a fan of catchy melodies, impeccably relatable lyrics, clever metaphors and a biting wit, then you’ll love Jenny Owen Youngs.

The last time I saw her at Hotel Cafe, she performed with a full band. This time it was a much more stripped down performance, but it still had the three things that make a great concert: A girl, a guitar, and a stage. That’s all I really need.

Her acoustic guitar-playing was occasionally joined on stage by Brad Gordon who played, as Jenny calls them “the key plank and the stringy paddle.”

The Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Youngs opened with “Secrets,” slowing down the normally up-tempo song to a pace more similar to the version on her “Last Person” EP (available now). The slow and sweet “Voice on Tape,” from her first album, “Batten the Hatches,” then followed.
There is no shortage of vulnerability in her songs and “Here is a Heart” is the ultimate example of that. She had me hanging on to every note and every word. I think the small, intimate venue helped with that.

And then it was time for something new! As I often say, it’s always the best part of a show when an artist dares to impress the audience with a new song. She did not disappoint. Fun and playful with just a hint of self-loathing, she cleverly sang, “Let’s go to your place, ‘cause I’ve got a roommate….” As her self-proclaimed “overshare song,” she sang about the fact that you know this person is bad for you, but being with them “beats the hurt.” Jenny, you must record this soon!

After closing with “Last Person” (a song I can’t help but dance to every time it comes on…no matter where I am), I was a little saddened about the fact that there was no encore. The only downside to this show is that it wasn’t long enough. Forty-five minutes simply isn’t enough time for JOY, but then again, neither is two hours. I guess I’m hard to please in that sense because I could listen to my favorite singers perform for ten hours straight. For the most part, she seemed to just want everyone to have a fun, laid-back time. She succeeded.

The best part of the night was getting to talk to her after the show when she remembered me from her last show in LA. Plus, it's always fun to know one of my favorite singers is a fellow "Buffy" fan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'90s Nostalgia: Jewel's New Album Takes Us Back

Jewel is back. Well, she never really left, but after 2008’s country album, “Perfectly Clear” and last year’s album of lullabies, Jewel returns to form with her new album “Sweet and Wild.” While it is a follow-up country album, she is also releasing a companion cd called “Sweet and Mild” that consists of exactly the same songs, but it’s the Jewel I prefer as it is all acoustic tracks which are demos that were recorded in her home.

If you prefer her country sound, you can purchase “Sweet and Wild” on its own, but if you’re like me and you like the Jewel from her “Pieces of You” days, I recommend picking up the deluxe album which includes “Sweet and Mild” – the 11 tracks stripped down with just her and a guitar.

The two tracks that stand out the most on this album are “What You Are” and “Ten.” In “What You Are,” Jewel, being the ever-consummate poet, turns her words to music in this melodic number about celebrating and accepting who you are without questioning it. “Ten” is one of the songs I actually prefer in country music format on the “Sweet and Wild” album because it is a true country song at its core. Easily relatable, it’s about getting into a fight or argument and just stepping back and counting to ten before you take it any further and create regrets.
In her eighth studio album and her second in the country music genre, on the “Mild” disc, Jewel finds her voice in a collection of songs reminiscent of her debut fifteen years ago. In “Wild,” she employs a country twang no doubt partly inspired by her life with husband, Ty Murray, living on their ranch in Texas. With a voice like hers, it’s pretty safe to say that no matter what sound or genre she’s experimenting with, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad Jewel album.’ “Sweet and Wild” is yet another example of that.