A BLUE STATE JUKEBOX REVIEW
by Tony Peyser
Yard Sale!'s Everything's A Dollar
As I've been reading e-mails from some of my regular correspondents, we all realize this is a weird time. It's because of this strange limbo between voting in November and the new Congress taking over in January. And it's still hard to believe that the next Senate and House will be controlled by us.
This makes me so darn happy that I thought I'd find an album this month with a less cynical, more welcoming spirit. You fans of The Blue State Jukebox can play this one over the holidays on your own jukeboxes as you're cooking, setting tables, trying to keep kids out of mischief -- and gloating to any and all Republicans within earshot about the midterm elections.
When I opened an envelope and saw Yard Sale!'s debut CD called Everything's A Dollar, I remembered that someone a few years ago told me she was going start a band with that name. Well, this is the project she was talking about. In the indie music word, things often percolate slowly. Before I get to the album, let me you give the 411 on a supremely talented singer, songwriter and bassist named Jill Olson.
Her debut solo effort was 1996's The Gal Who Would Be King. Just a title like that lets you know Olson's got a sense of humor. She's an impossible person to forget with her retro black glasses and a smile so incandescent that you may have to slip on some sunglasses. The Gal Who Would Be King had the moxie to mix the twang of Nashville, the soul of Liverpool and the jingle jangle of power pop. Six years later, Olson applied a similar template to the equally effective My Best Yesterday, produced by no less than Americana legend Dave Alvin. A third solo effort should come out in 2007.
In the interim, Olson remains a key member of Red Meat, the rambunctious Bay Area-based honky tonk band. (They recently backed up rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson at one of John Waters' kitschy traveling Christmas shows.) In 2001, Red Meat's "Broken Up and Blue" was in "Monster's Ball" and that song was written by Olson.
In this Yard Sale! side project, she teams up with two gal pals from Oakland who also write and sing and are veterans of area bands: accordion player Melanie DeGiovanni and guitarist Denise Funari. Some all-girl groups can be a little airy-fairy as if (as my wife Kathy once said) they have closets full of wind chimes. But the sensible women of Yard Sale! seem to have deep roots which aren't affected by prevailing musical gusts.
They slyly describe their sound as a "thrift store mix of pop, folk, and country music." Whether they call it yard sale or thrift store, what's clear is the casual, back porch vibe that they aim for and deliver. The DeGiovanni-penned "Sunday Afternoon." is a perfect place to start: "I'm sitting on the porch on Sunday afternoon/Trying to do nothing, just waiting for the moon/If I had my way, if pennies were wishes/I'd never have to vacuum or do any dishes." Even though it's set on a Sunday, you know everybody's wearing their Casual Friday clothes. You can practically smell the barbecue and feel your hand getting cold as it fishes around in the ice chest for that last bottle of Dos Equis.
Funari has an especially memorable track here with "It Should Be You." In the aftermath of leaving a husband with a serious drinking problem, a woman three years later realizes she still loves him. Yeah, he's married and they've both moved on but the passion that was there before the drinking took center stage is somehow still alive. It's a quiet song with deep emotions as evidenced from these lyrics: "Because you think the world of me and all my stubborn ways/And you love me for who I am even on my ugliest days/You're the one I want my kids to run home to/You're the man, it should be you." Here, and I should note on other songs as well, the harmonies of Olson, DeGiovanni and Funari manage to find that sweetness in life's seating arrangement often winds up sitting next to sorrow.
The gracious Olson only wrote three of the album's fifteen tracks, thereby allowing her talented (but lesser known) band mates to strut their stuff more than she. My favorite one is surely "Come On Home." In fact, it's as good as anything Olson's ever written. It starts out like this: "When there's no place left to hide, come on home/When there's no lies left to lie, come on home/When you're lost and alone, down to skin and bone/Well, I'm not made of stone, just come on home." With Christmas upon us, the sentiment of "come on home" couldn't be more appropriate. Spend a little less time on food and shopping and make sure that the people you love are not lost in the chaos of the season. Someone's presence is always more important than anybody's presents.
Towards the end of the song, I felt a pang on hearing these two lines: "There's a place in my heart, so come on home/There's a light in the dark, come on home." Maybe it's just me but my thoughts went right to our men and women in uniform fighting this insane war. I want them to be home, healed and whole as soon as possible. The light in the dark illuminating their way was when America last went to the polls and impolitely kicked this administration to the curb.
In an HBO documentary some years ago, it was noted that World War II soldiers were initially mailed copies of Time without the ads --- and the troops did not like this. They wanted to see magazines with the Madison Avenue images of home, cars, girls and Coke. I would imagine troops in harm's way now might even dream about something as innocent as a yard sale. Well, I hope someone sends them Everything's A Dollar because I know they will warm to it and remember what simple joys are waiting for them on their return.
Oh, and before I forget, Yard Sale! insists their first record features music to make pies by. (DeGiovanni should know; she's a prize-winning baker.) So, get the CD, some butter, flour, sugar and apples and make a dessert this month. With any luck, it might smell nearly as good as Everything's A Dollar sounds.
A BLUE STATE JUKEBOX REVIEW
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