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Jill Sobule

Glorious simplicity

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By Bill DeMain  
artist

The great author Vladimir Nabokov said that one of the keys to good writing is to "Caress the detail, the divine detail."

Jill Sobule understands this. Over the five albums she's released since her debut in 1989, she's been writing songs that are full of those keenly observed, divine details. On Underdog Victorious, there's the hot plate and empty pizza boxes of "Freshman" that define a sad, extended adolescent lifestyle. There's the talkbox and the Peavey bass that conjure up a certain kind of druggy 1970s rock band in "Cinnamon Park." In "Joey," she paints a picture of the hard-living sex kitten Joey Heatherton, with mentions of a mattress ad and the USO in 'Nam. In "Strawberry Gloss," it's retainers, Jean Naté and "kissing the mirror to see how I'd taste" that lets you feel the heartbreak of a shy teenage girl. And in one of the album's most powerful songs, "Tel Aviv," Sobule gets inside the head of a young prostitute who, in the middle of a trick, is daydreaming of being back home on the farm with her friend Sofia, "running and laughing out loud down by the river."

All of this evocative lyrical writing is matched by Sobule's usual flair for melody. And that's what separates her from a lot of storytelling singer-songwriters -- she knows from a good hook. Her longtime producers Brad Jones and Robin Eaton (who doubles as Sobule's co-writing partner) continue to display a facility for bringing everything from '60s movie soundtrack atmosphere, to Vegas bright light swing, to funky R & B, to straight-up jangly pop to her musical party.

It's a shame that for many, Sobule is still known as a kind of one-hit wonder (the catchy lesbian chic song "I Kissed A Girl" put her on the radio back in 1995). Anyone who spends time with this album, or any from her back catalog, will discover that this is a deep, funny, and engaging songstress who deserves more than a cult following.

Or to paraphrase the title track - "Underdog victorious, she is simply glorious."

Musician and journalist Bill DeMain writes frequently about music. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Entertainment Weekly, MOJO, and Musician.