Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Favorite Albums of 2014

Dottie's Charms /
Jill Sobule

What?!  I haven't written yet about Dottie's Charms?  Man, I really can't believe I missed posting this, because this totally endearing concept album by Jill Sobule floated me through several dreary months this year.

Here's the concept, in a nutshell:  Jill bought this charm bracelet on eBay and began to muse about what each charm symbolized in the life of its anonymous owner.  She asked several writers and poets each to write lyrics about one of the bracelet's charms, which Jill then set to music. (When I saw her this summer at the City Winery, she actually passed that precious bracelet around the audience -- gotta love it.) 

It's a life in miniature, and in other hands it could have turned out hokey. But Jill's genuine curiosity about what makes people tick is one of her defining traits. She's one of the special ones, the artists whose work plumbs to the heart of what makes us human.

A sample track, for your delectation:

As a child of the Midwest, this one goes deep.  I remember my (possibly all-time closest) friend Beth Wood doing her term talk on Mackinac Island, making it sound so alluring. It's still on my travel bucket list.  

Jill's lyricist on this one was music journalist David Hadju -- a New Jersey guy, granted, not a Midwesterner. Still, he gets a lot of things right -- not just the fine points of Mackinac/Mackinaw pronunciation, but its essence ("quaint as crochet," "it's like Bermuda in Michigan," and -- spot on, here -- "No glitz, no buzz / Preserving a history that never quite was.")  Of course he can't resist mentioning the 1980 time-travel fantasy Somewhere in Time, filmed on Mackinac, and its male lead, the late great Christopher Reeve. (Moment of silence.)  Yeah, yeah, I know the original novel Somewhere in Time was set in New York City -- I'm a huge fan of that book, I even once snagged a signed letter from its reclusive author Jack Finney. But I'll give the moviemakers a pass for changing the location, because who could resist filming on Mackinac Island?

Then, hidden inside the travelogue, we discover a wisp of a story about a fleeting affair. The details are few and tantalizing -- "The kiss in my vestibule, / The stain on my slip." I can't help imagining it was illicit, maybe even adulterous. But Dottie's sure not telling.

Jill's musical setting is perfect:  A little old-fashioned finger-picking, almost square-dance music, switching to a dreamy waltz in the chorus.  Sung in her winsome girlish voice, it's a tentative reverie, a page from a private memory book.  I can just picture sixty-year-old Dottie twirling the charm on her bracelet, lost in reminiscence.

Did she love the guy?  Was he the great love of her life?  Probably not -- but it meant enough to her that she bought that charm for her bracelet.  Along with ten other charms, all with tracks of their own, telling other pieces of Dottie's patchwork life.  

I highly recommend Dottie's Charms. In my humble opinion (okay, I can't resist), it's the year's most charming album. 

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