I saw Jonatha Brooke play live last week for the first time. If you’re over 30 or just mature for your age (and don’t mind a 15-year age difference), you’re likely to be a little smitten when you see her.
It’d be easy to lump her in with other female singer-songwriters who are ridiculously pretty yet seem to draw from an endless well of broken relationships (Sarah McLachlan, perhaps). But Brooke brings something different. She lets loose with a sad lyric, then slips into a sly smile as she strums her acoustic. In between songs, she could hold her own as a stand-up, both for storytelling and quick responses to the crowd. It’s as if she’s happy to be exorcising everything that has pissed her off in the past couple of decades. It’s inspiring stuff.
Linger, which has been in heavy rotation on my Launch player and my iPod for the past three or four years, has the same attitude. It’s about a relationship that’s breaking, probably with good reason. The song is steeped in dysfunction, obsession and betrayal, and yet it bounces along with a defiant beat behind some of the best melodic hooks you’ll ever hear.
It helps that Brooke has a voice that can handle complex melodies with both an understated dignity and a confident growl. She somehow sounds sexy as she’s walking away from a horrible relationship, and it’s not in the cliched R&B “mm-hmm” style. (Cliched, yes, but it often works — check Erykah Badu’s Tyrone.)
I suppose this counts as her biggest hit or signature song — it’s the one she played before the fake ending and encores. That’s high praise indeed, given the general strength of her back catalog — though she was over 30 when she recorded her first solo album and therefore has fewer albums than, say, Tori Amos. (Her studio efforts are a little inconsistent, though I liked all but one song from the live set.)
In a world that truly appreciates great art, this would be a career-making song. As it is, well, she landed a Disney gig, which hopefully gives her the financial security to tour when she feels like and keep singing this should-have-been hit for another decade or two.
A definite contender for my all-time Top 10.