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Jonatha Brooke-Works

Jonatha Brooke

Works

Format: CD   Release Date: 09/04/2009
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A full decade after Billy Bragg and Wilco teamed up to set to music unrecorded lyrics of Woody Guthrie on Mermaid Avenue, now Jonatha Brooke has done the same. Unsurprisingly, she takes quite a different approach than they did, starting with her choice of co-producer, Bob Clearmountain, whose mountain of production and engineering credits have run the gamut from Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones to Sheryl Crow and Brooke's previous release, Careful What You Wish For. Here Clearmountain goes for a slim, shimmering sound that emphasizes Guthrie's words and Brooke's delivery over the music's sonic properties. But that's not to slight the rest of the crew here, which includes some of the finest jazz and pop musicians working today: Christian McBride on acoustic bass, Steve Gadd on drums, Joe Sample and Mitchell Froom on keyboards, and a handful of A-list guests including Hiram Bullock, Derek Trucks, and Eric Bazilian on guitars; Gil Goldstein on accordion; and three tracks featuring a pedal steel played by Greg Leisz. The Guthrie material, though it includes some political and social commentary, largely trends toward the romantic and the personal. "All You Gotta Do Is Touch Me," from whose lyrics the album's title is drawn, places Brooke (who also provides guitar and piano on the album) in a vocal duet with Keb' Mo', and it's about as naked and confessional a lyric as Guthrie ever wrote: "I fully aim to get my soul known again/As the maniac, the saint, the sinner, the drinker, the thinker, the queer/I am the works, the whole works/And it's not till you have called me one of these things/That I feel satisfied." On the ballad "My Battle," Brooke, in one of the album's most stirring vocals, puts a country tint on words like "Teach me how, how to fight my hard times in life/Teach me how to fight, and I'll run away with you/And I will never dread the day I will die/'Cause my sunset is somebody's morning sky." The inherently sweet twang of Brooke, meanwhile, somehow allows her to soften the images that run through the uncompromising "Madonna on the Curb": "The wails of sickly children, she knows, she understands/The pangs of puny bodies, the clutch of small, hot hands/The deadly blaze of August, that turns men faint and mad/She quiets the peevish urchins, by telling of dreams she had." Two original Brooke compositions, "Little Bird" and "Taste of Danger," augment the Guthrie repertoire, and manage to fit in comfortably. That they do says plenty about the level of talent at work here. ~ Jeff Tamarkin, Rovi

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