September 16, 2011
ASBURY PARK, NJ—Wall, New Jersey resident Jessica Charlotte Poland is one of those real home-grown musical surprises that we New Jerseyans keep up our sleeve. If you do any reading or browsing, you’ll see that New Jersey is full of musicians and artists that make contributions without the high-visibility of Los Angeles, New York and other areas. Jessica has quietly gone from a lanky dance class brat to a major label artist (Geffen/Interscope) with something interesting to say. She has been featured in Elle magazine, as well as The Bamboozle and The Warp tour’s annual compilation CD. Jessica showed on my radar after a mutual friend, Garen Gueyikian (Kill The Alarm), asked me to come check her out at The Saint.
Jessica’s stage name, Charlotte Sometimes, comes straight from the pages of the 1969 book of the same name. Written by Penelope Farmer, it tells the tale about a boarding school student who finds herself transported 40 years into the past, into the place of another girl. Stage personas always make me laugh and usually I would have already been looking for the door, but what she did onstage kept me in the room, and got me to pursue her afterwards for a copy of her newest CD, titled The Wait.
The first thing I noticed was the unpretentious stance of her band. This three-piece combo of drums, bass and piano got the job done with dynamic finesse, supporting and focusing all attention on her ethereal voice. Poland has a style that falls somewhere between the dark, melancholy sugar of Nicole Atkins and the spacey, rollercoaster glissando of ex-Morcheeba singer Skye Edwards. Lilting at times, Poland has the power to project when it’s needed. She also lends her talent with acoustic guitar, being the only six-stringer in the bunch.
The Wait, while only an EP, gets right down to business and features five very interesting compositional works. Songs like “Done” show great pop sensibilities that mix the infectious lift-and-fall vocal style of Jessica Poland with the rhythmic medication of drummer Spencer Peterson. Poland’s self-confident delivery and tone make sure that this song ends up on the Sirius New Artist section in the near future.
Another song that comes from the super-pop genre is “Just Enough.” Featuring a melodic, harp-plucked theme, the song delves into love, indecision and the ultimate ways of where it goes right and where it steers wrong. Jessica lays down thick layers of lush vocals that pull you into the core of the song. She invites the listener into her mind, showing the theme and leaving you feeling like a voyeur that’s seen every corner. The horn pad at the end of the song is a classic touch of a producer that cares as much about the arrangement as he does about the eventual chart placement.
“Headache” hand-claps its way into the listener’s head right away. A single guitar line snakes center stage as Poland circles it, flashing the sharp edge of her vocal wit. When the band kicks in, it’s timed down to a perfect second. I have to credit Poland with superb compositional skills here. Her knowledge of arrangement and lyrical clarity is going to take her far and makes this song breathe deep.
“Staying In My Heart,” features a Fender Rhodes. It has a “Strawberry Fields”-tinged intro that kicks into a Heartbreakers, mid-tempo romp. Poland steers her musical ship straight down the channel here. Acoustic guitars, bass and minimal drums clear the path for string-beds that slide smoothly underneath Jessica’s Kate Bush influence. Heartbreak, disappointment and the melancholic destruction of love are prominent themes here, and while Charlotte Sometimes can easily be labeled as a pop artist, the complexities of this song and its arrangement show otherwise. This is a real songwriter that can deliver great music without brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack.
“For You” creeks to life with its haunted, music box intro. Poland’s lazy, summer day vocals lull the listener, setting up the direction and theme like a painter. Poland’s choice of melody here has me shaking my head and wondering how she came up with exactly that one. Trust me, I was looking for a chink in this girl’s armor, but it’s been a pleasant listening session. Stark, beautiful and intelligent, The Wait has something positive to affect everyone who listens to it.
Poland is not a standard singer. I really like that. She doesn’t sound like the blonde stable of radio fodder out there right now. It’s a refreshing and offbeat style that holds court with the very few influential singers I listed earlier. So, after several listens to The Wait and seeing her live, her voice, like black Sambuca, just becomes an acquired and delicious taste. You could put her up against anyone on the charts today and she would excel. If learning to write is half the battle, my prediction would be getting to that chartable position is next for Charlotte Sometimes. For more information, head over to charlottesometimesmusic.com.
12 Dirty Bullets – Hitting ‘The Saint’ly Mark
While I really didn’t come to see them, special mention goes out to 12 Dirty Bullets, a West London band that really brought some substance to the show with their Oasis-meets-The-Stone-Roses vibe. 12 Dirty Bullets took full command of The Saint stage, banging out songs from their latest CD, Downsides To Making A Living. The disc was produced by Hugh Jones (Echo And The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Modern English and Charlatans) and the result is an 11-track response call to the English music scene’s infatuation with keyboard-dominated bands.
These self-proclaimed “punchy, poetic peasants” share stories of personal heartbreak, failure and success; celebrating and condemning the ups and downs of a commerce driven and artistically diluted musical landscape that crosses all borders, ponds and boundaries.
Formed in the summer of 2007 by brothers Jamie (vocals/guitar) and Josh Jamieson (bass/vocals), these working-class Westminster boys are no strangers to local music venues and guerilla style promotion of music. Like lyrics bleeding off of the very page, their refreshing alternative indie-rock sounds have been saturating the clubs and airwaves throughout the London area.
Constant gigging encouraged them to do what many bands are finally doing with their future. They put everything into their own hands by forming their own record label, Fatman Records.
While some of the material on Downsides To Making A Living sounded a bit 1980s traditional, the band was, for the most part, sharp, focused and right on the money. Amicable and funny, they brought that British wit to their action-packed music as well, coming up to me after the show and telling of the excitement of being in the U.S. and playing our hallowed rooms. After several hot summer months of mopey, American bands crying about having to sell tickets, 12 Angry Bullets was a welcome change of pace for me.
2011 sees 12 Dirty Bullets entering the studio to record their second album. Having just completed a lengthy and highly successful tour in the U.K., the Bullets are already penetrating our thick, North American hide on their quest to the rest of the world. If you like rock ‘n’ roll performed by bands that aren’t afraid to lay it all out on the proverbial table, then check these guys out over at myspace.com/12dirtybullets.