Category Archives: PledgeMusic

Juliana Hatfield’s 1993

When Juliana Hatfield and the Three reunited in 2015 to record the album that became Whatever, My Love, they funded themselves via PledgeMusic. There was a cornucopia of cool premiums, from autographed CDs and photos to musical instruments, but what I’d hoped to snare—the soundcheck/concert tickets—sold out before I got there.

In years past, for other JH projects, I’d walked away with some autographed posters (including the one above, which shares a corner in my den with an autographed Susanna Hoffs poster) and other neat things, including the download-albums God’s Foot Demos, Live Nuggets and Live at Maxwell’s. I also did a 20 Questions. To me, it was and is less about what I bought and more about the music – as in, her new music. (Which is why, if you’re reading this, be sure to buy her 2017 release, Pussycat.)

Anyway, for the 2015 PledgeMusic outing, she offered up her “diary” of a momentous year in her life: 1993. That was when she recorded and released her major-label debut, Become What You Are, and toured in support of it; and pledging for it was a no-brainer for me. The “diary” is actually four-and-a-half pages on a legal-sized notepad – and an interesting read, especially when she gets to pressing the flesh in July and August:

“…I always thought the work was writing great songs and playing them with feelings. No, it’s more than that – I’m expected to give a little piece of myself to everyone until I feel drained of all vigor and individuality. I’m expected to be pleasant and witty while answering the same dumb questions twenty times in one day. I feel like a piece of meat, prodded from one pen to the next. But I’m confused because all the while, I’m grateful there are people who play my records and support what I do. I’m amazed and so lucky that I can make music for a living. I just have to remember that.”

Unfortunately, legal-sized paper is a few inches too large for my scanner. So I’ve chopped the pages in half. Here’s Juliana’s 1993…

Today’s Top 5: Blake Babies

bbearwigdemosLast night, via DVD, I tripped back in time to 1988 in Cambridge, Mass., to watch the Blake Babies hold court at Nightstage, one of the Boston area’s top live-music venues at the time. The band, for the uninitiated, is an idiosyncratic, poppy delight – one of the greatest acts of the late ‘80s to never break through to popular acclaim, if you ask me. They formed in 1986, released a handful of eccentric four- and five-star albums and EPs, including the classic Sunburn, and went their separate ways in 1991. They’re most known, today, as Juliana Hatfield’s first band. That may not be fair to the other two members, guitarist John Strohm and drummer Freda Love, or occasional member Evan Dando, but it is what it is. Juliana sang lead on most songs and wrote much (though not all) of the lyrics and music. What can be said? They are her and she is them, though not really.

After a decade apart, they came together for the brilliant God Bless the Blake Babies in 2001 –

– before disbanding again, though Juliana and Freda worked together as two-thirds of Some Girls.

Anyway, earlier this year, the Blake Babies set up a PledgeMusic project: demos from Earwig, their earworm-laden second album. The demos are a godsend; the sound is clean, the songs are sublime, and Juliana’s vocals are, in turn and sometimes all at once, vital, vulnerable and venomous. The DVD, a premium, contains two shows (one from ’88, the other from ’87) that were apparently recorded by a cohort with a camcorder. It has all the markings of many of the fan-generated videos uploaded to YouTube, including mine, and the sound is far from optimal. And, yet, the negatives rarely matter – you feel like you’re right there, in the audience.

So, for today’s Top 5: Blake Babies. Not their five best songs, as selecting those would be an impossible task, but two of their official videos and a few cool, fan-generated clips.

1) “Cesspool”

2) “Temptation Eyes”

3) “Out There”

4) “Passionate Kisses” (Lucinda Williams cover)

5) “Sanctify”

And one bonus, from 2011 – Juliana Hatfield & Evan Dando with “Rain” …

Of “Moments” & Katie Rox

Katie_RoxA few months back I wrote about Sandy Denny, the British folk-rock artist whose oeuvre I’ve begun investigating nearly 30 years after first thinking that I should. As I discovered, and am still discovering, she wrote and recorded many wondrous songs. One that I’ve come to adore is “Moments,” her final studio recording. “These are the moments that we love so well/Precious moments caught within a spell,” she sings at the outset, her sterling vocals imbued with a haunting tenderness.

As my wife Diane can attest, I have a knack for obsessing over bygone songs, albums and artists. Last year it was Dusty Springfield; after a lifetime of lovingDusty in Memphis, I took the plunge and explored the rest of her canon when a YouTube link led me to her rendition of the classic Carole King-Gerry Goffin song “ Goin’ Back.” The year before that it was Peggy Lee, and the year before that it was the Original Carter Family, and on through the eras and artists. The main reason why I generally find myself rooting around popular music’s figurative attic: a dearth of new sounds that appeal to me.

That’s not to say there aren’t good works being released. Juliana Hatfield’s latest PledgeMusic effort, Wild Animals, is a rough-hewn jewel; and her upcoming Minor Alps project with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws has all the earmarks of an instant classic. But I can count on two hands the number of new albums I’ve picked up this year that I listened to more than a few times. And new artists? Even less.

Which is why I was thrilled, in early July, to stumble across up-and-coming Canadian singer-songwriter Katie Rox’s PledgeMusic page. Her Facebook profile offers a succinct summary of her life and career to date, but that’s not what sold me on her. It was her voice, which is pure and sweet, but not too sweet, and her sense of humor – as evidenced by this funny promo for her PledgeMusic project. Her YouTube page also contains a bevy of cool originals and covers, including one of Freddie Fender’s “ Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” So, what the hell? I pledged – and not just for the download or CD, but also for a cover song of my choice.

I should mention that cover songs are one of my favorite things to witness in concert – especially off-the-wall, unexpected gems. 10,000 Maniacs closing their set with “To Sir With Love” at WXPN’s Five Star Night benefit in 1992 remains one of my favorite concert memories. There are dozens upon dozens of such songs I could easily have picked for Katie to sing, of course, and I actually considered quite a few, including ones by Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and Juliana Hatfield.

In the end, though, I went with my current infatuation, “Moments.” Katie’s voice just seemed a perfect fit for it. And I’m glad I did. As she notes in the intro, prior to my request she was unfamiliar with both Sandy Denny and the song (which means she’s with 99.9 percent of people in North America) yet that doesn’t steal from her performance. It’s tentative to start, and understandably so, but by song’s end she’s in the zone: “Cherish deep within you/the love you get today/let the moment linger/for tomorrow steals that away…”

I didn’t just pledge for a song, however. I pledged to support Katie’s project, and with or without “Moments” it would have been money well spent – as evidenced by one of the completed songs, which she made available to her Pledge backers in late July. Titled “Too Late,” it conjures Kasey Chambers (though minus the Aussie accent) circa “The Captain”  with its subtle twang, moody melody and vocals that grow slightly less restrained by song’s end. It’s a stunner.

If you like what you hear in Katie’s music, pledge. And if you don’t, hey, that’s cool – but do check out the other artists on PledgeMusic. You may just find someone whose music you’ll one day treasure.