Jonatha Brook has been in the music business since the
mid-’90s. She is virtually unknown to the under-25 set,
however, since her folk-tinged pop songs in the vein of Shawn
Colvin and Paula Cole mostly appeal to middle-aged women.

Laura Wong

The CD insert of Back in the Circus, Brooke’s fifth
album, implements a carnival theme but aside from the art, the
title track is the only feature reminiscent of the big top.
Accordion tunes and shuffling percussion in a waltz beat make this
song a bittersweet reflection on the past, with lyrics such as
“Every man’s the same / Only the times and places
change / On this rollercoaster ride, up and down / But I never get
to the other side.” This track sets the mood for the rest of
the album, which consists of contemplative love songs. “Less
Than Love Is Nothing” utilizes an annoying drum beat that
attempts to sound vaguely like an electronic song. Her voice
switches on the album from gentle and sighing to whiny and wailing
without much intensity in any.

Brooke also covers three songs — James Taylor’s
“Fire and Rain,” the Beach Boys’ “God Only
Knows” and the Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the
Sky” — approaching each differently. Brooke mangles
“Fire and Rain” by complicating it with keyboards and
an obnoxious handclap beat, but does a decent job with a minimalist
version of “God Only Knows.” The tempo is slowed down,
and Brooke uses her breathy voice to her advantage during the a
cappella harmonizing in the song’s bridge. In “Eye in
the Sky,” Brooke erases all traces of the ’80s, opting
instead for a yearning, mournful folk song characteristic of her
style.

All of the songs — with the exception of the covers
— on Back in the Circus are written, performed and
produced by Brooke, resulting in a tightly-woven album that
thankfully plays through quickly. It’s telling, however, that
while Brooke is technically skilled, her own songs are not executed
as well as her treatments of covers.

 

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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