Jonatha Brooke has been out in the folk-pop trenches
for almost twenty years, working up a great reputation in music circles,
first as half of the acoustic duo The Story and then as a solo artist.
Her music has mostly been released independently; only two story albums and
one solo were on major labels and her last three on her own own label.
While she still hasn't quite reached the audiences of indie goddesses Ani
DiFranco and Aimee Mann, Brooke does have a good following. She even
touches the mainstream, contributing two tracks to the soundtrack of last
year's Disney film Return to Neverland.
Back To the Circus has the potential to be a
left-field hit along the lines of Shawn Colvin, but more likely it will
continue and expand Brooke's cult following while being missed out on by the
public at large that doesn't listen to AAA radio.
The title track has a quiet confessional tone that is
spookily similar to Aimee Mann's recent work. "Less Than Love Is
Nothing" (co-written by former Hooter Eric Bazilian) is a lovely dance pop
tune, which with just a slight remix could become a quirky dance hit like
Everything But the Girl's "Missing" or Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner."
More traditional (I mean that in a good way) is the gorgeous love ballad "It
Matters Now," and the country-rock-tinged "Everything I Wanted."
Brooke, who is known as much as a writer as she is as
a singer, throws a change-up by doing three quirky covers. It's not so
much the songs themselves that are quirky, the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows"
and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" have been recorded many times. But
Brooke tweaks the songs to make them her own. "God Only Knows" is
given a sparse electronica backbeat and a kaleidoscope of piano and vocals
(honestly the electronica touches don't quite work, but they are limited
enough to not hurt the song too much.) Most amazing of the covers is
an acoustic reinvention of the Alan Parsons Project's "Eye In the Sky" which
is at once faithful to the tune and an eye-opening job of stripping down.
This reinvention can also be said to be a quality of
the album in general. Brooke has produced her own work for the first
time, and in doing so has allowed herself to prod and experiment with her
sound without losing track of her skills. Now let's see if the rest of
the world catches on.