It’s an exciting time because both Liz Phair and Juliana Hatfield have brand new albums out. These two never fail to deliver solid material full of subtle hooks, performed with a sonic panache defined by groovy guitars and alluring vocals. But don’t just take my word for it. These two are so good that people write songs about them. A lot of people, actually. I came across the phenomenon quite by accident when I was searching to see if either artist had material up on Bandcamp (with music purchases I try to make sure the biggest cut goes to the artist). Surprise, surprise, the results turned up songs about the artists as well as the artists themselves. And some of the tracks are pretty good. So today’s post showcases new songs by Hatfield and Phair as well as songs by people who (obviously) love them!
Juliana Hatfield has been keeping us entertained in recent years with her exquisite, meticulous cover albums dedicated to material by Olivia Newton John and The Police. At first the concept seemed a bit over the top – until you hear them. Hatfield knows how to ride the line on doing covers: you give the audience a bit of what they expect, something familiar, even as you stretch the song into a new shape. It’s the difference between karaoke and a real craft in performing. Still, it’s great to have a new album of originals. Blood is packed full of Hatfield’s usual cool tunes, whip-smart lyrics, striking guitars and compressed vocals, coming off like the Bangles’ new wave neighbour. Keyboards also figure prominently on this record, bouncing against the guitar and keeping the two in tension. You can really hear it on “Gorgon,” my fave track right now. I love the simplicity and swing behind the guitar hooks in the chorus. But it’s there all over the record, from the dynamic opening cut “The Shame of Love” to the early single “Mouthful of Blood.” If you’re a Hatfield fan, get ready to enjoy yourself. Blood’s a pleaser.
Hatfield and Phair make for an interesting pairing. They’re almost exactly the same age, born three months apart in 1967. But productivity-wise, Phair has been a bit more selective about releasing material under her own name, with just 7 albums compared to Hatfield’s 19. Of course, she has released other work as part of Some Girls, Minor Alps, and The I Don’t Care’s. The soon-to-be released Liz Phair album is entitled Soberish and we’ve only got three songs to go on for now. But what a triple play. “Hey Lou” is an imagined conversation between Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Lyrically it is already clever enough, but music-wise the song’s structure is striking and original, a layered melody that really pulls you in. “Spanish Doors” also offers some distinctive layering, this time with juxtaposed vocal melody lines in the chorus that are definitely captivating. “In There” is a more open, vulnerable track, nicely filled in with acoustic piano and some airy synth lines. Can’t wait to hear more.
Overall, the songs about Hatfield and Phair are pretty indie DIY. But not Bad Bad Hat’s “Liz Phair.” Wow, this is one slick, spot-on Phair-ish number. The song is professionally produced, with interesting guitar and keyboard work, and pretty Liz-like vocals. The rest of this trio’s EP Wide Right is highly listenable, with a sound that departs from the Phair mould. Jimmy Murn and the Heymakers go all fan boy on “Dear Liz Phair” but the earnestness is cut with some great Weezer-ish vocal ‘ooh oohs,’ crunchy guitars and funky organ fills. Picturebox’s fuzzed out “Juliana Hatfield One” is a poppy number riding a Nick Lowe kind of melodic hook. “Juliana Hatfield Two” is the same again but de-fuzzed, which brings out the cheese on the synth and adds extra preciousness to the vocals. 24 Hours Blues Cycle’s “Juliana Hatfield Type” is a bit of a departure, kicking off in an Americana folk vein but the supporting background vocals are very Juliana. And then there’s the very professional Swiss band Lovebugs who manage to name-check both our featured artists and many more women in rock in their somewhat datedly-titled but peppy “Girls in Rock.”
Imagine what it must be like running across a song written about you. Must be kinda cool. Or maybe it’s a bit creepy? I’m not really in a position to judge from personal experience. Ultimately, as with all things musical, the bottom line for me is the quality of the tune. A lot can be forgiven if the thing is hummable. Hatfield and Phair never let us down on that front.