The person responsible for naming Jonatha Brooke’s new album Back in the Circus definitely hit the nail on the head. This album is reminiscent of circus music. Not that it’s quirky or obnoxious – it is just overly happy. Her lyrics are very personal and deep – so deep, in fact, that the subject of a song could probably hear it and recognize themselves in it.
It seems improbable that a musician of this caliber, who has been in the music business for almost 15 years, could be virtually unheard of. For 10 of those 15 years, Jonatha Brooke has remained a solo artist. Circus is latest release on her own Bad Dog label.
The album really captures the essence of Brooke’s live show. True, her roots are in the coffee house scene, but her lyrics show an age and maturity unseen since Joni Mitchell. She has been compared with the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Liz Phair.
The great thing about having your own label and producing your own record is the freedom to do pretty much whatever you want. In this situation, Brooke went wild. An artist who was basically the female Dashboard Confessional, Brooke has gone to great lengths to change her style and sound.
This new album incorporates everything from pump organs and mandolins to electronic drums. And she could have stopped there, but instead chose to include three covers. The first is “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. She infuses the song with a jazzy, R&B tinge that actually works better that you’d think. Track seven is “God Only Knows,” originally recorded by the Beach Boys. It comes off as a more earnest and believable track than the original rendition. It maintains a simplistic stance and doesn’t over reach.
Brian Wilson would be proud.
The final track is a cover of the oddly chosen “Eye in the Sky,” from the cult 80s band The Alan Parsons Project. For those who have heard the original, this new version is a stretch, but because most younger listeners only know The Alan Parsons Project from Austin Powers, the audience won’t even know what’s hit them, or how good it is.
As long as this record is approached with an open mind, few will be disappointed.