Jessica Charlotte Poland is no stranger to the big leagues. This Wall, NJ native has spent time in the arena with giants such as Geffen, Sony and NBC. Like the proverbial underdog from the biblical story of David and Goliath, Poland has thrown some mighty accurate “rocks” at the industry and scored direct hits.
There are a few career highlights that I find fascinating about this little, self-confessed coffee house girl. The first one was Poland’s breakout single, “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” a smart and sexy battle royale that put her on the map and led to a contract with Geffen in late 2008. The other intriguing highlight was her appearance on season two of The Voice.
Not only did Poland manage to get an initial nod for her performance on the show, but she managed the rare feat of getting all four judges to turn around for a shot at mentoring her. She eventually picked country star Blake Shelton. Shelton took her through the first live round as her coach, and although she was eliminated, she succeeded in garnering attention from a whole new tv generation. A generation eager to hear what this impish, lyrically large composer has to say.
Her moniker, Charlotte Sometimes is based on the 1969 Penelope Farmer book of the same name. The book tells the tale of a boarding school girl who is transported 40 years into the past to take the place of another girl. And while that may be her secretive theme, the Charlotte Sometimes that I know is already far into the future state of things when it comes to her rich musical exploration.
Tough and experienced, she says it all on her pledgemusic.com page: “I’ve been signed, I’ve been dropped, and I was that sassy girl on season two of The Voice. Now, I’m trying to get my new EP, Circus Head, pressed and in your hands.” These are the realistic words from a brash and open artist that’s not afraid to get knocked down and get back up in the fight, and she’s throwing lethal left hooks on her way to the next bout. One of Poland’s ongoing wins is her writing relationship with Sony, a nurturing situation that will allow her to spread her distinctive compositional brand to a bigger selection of markets.
Circus Head spans the big top from danceable pop to intimate and confessional folk. Released through The Orchard on Lefthook Records, this is Jessica’s fifth release. Circus Head features five intelligent and pristine compositions of arrangement and verse. Produced by multi-platinum generator Jay Levine, as well as Poland and Blueprint (“I Wanna Make Love To A Stranger”), Circus Head is a good taste of things yet to come for this quality writer. The album cover features Charlotte Sometimes in multiplicity roles that represent different personalities in her life. According to Poland, she says that the cover represents “different parts of my personality, all of my characters that have me trapped and trying to take over me.” Whatever the artistic or internal battle may be, Poland’s skill shines bright on Circus Head.
The disc immediately explodes with Poland’s beat sensibility on “Brilliant, Broke And Beautiful.” This Katy Perry-inspired pop rocker combines the good and plenty style of hook repetition to the point where it sticks in my head for weeks. The palpitating synth line is as strong as Poland’s hiccupped vocal moxie, and it’s a key component of the song. Guitar chords slash across pocket tight drums and bass as Poland lays her sassy “Hey! Hey!” vocal chant over funky fun choruses that will be pushing top playlists for days and days.
“Second Best” saunters in on a Latino breeze before bouncing into a big, brash body-shaking chorus. Dark lyrical content lurks in shimmering verse that makes the chorus bigger than Texas. Poland waxes poetic on all things adversary. Past relationships clouding the current and the feeling of someone else on the mind of the one you love. She throws passionate pleas for time in the now as she states, “That day with you, I’ve got an answer, she grows inside, you’re like a cancer, four years with that and now I’m chasing, a heart that I have mistaken.” Yet again, this beautiful song slips into the disc’s continuity slot without hesitation and should turn many an iTunes generation head.
“I Wanna Make Love To A Stranger” slips in amongst scratchy, crackling record effect and sky gray organ pads before percussionist Ryan Vaughn bounces in a 3/4 verse that sets up the groove to the chorus. When the band hits, the four on the floor dance chorus flies over the wall of anything that The Pierces or Katy Perry could ever hope to come up with. If there’s one signature trademark I could put to Poland, it’s her openness to bear all. Subject matter is confessional hot here as the transformation of Charlotte Sometimes overtakes Jessica Poland with some of the best straight up, sex greedy lyrics to date. Charlotte doesn’t blink an eye as she says, “Is anybody home tonight? I’m feeling dark inside. And I’m not a kitchen floor, feel like a pretty whore.” “I Wanna Make Love To A Stranger” is a deliciously sexy, Kate Bush meets Skye Edwards head turner, and I love it.
“Paint The Sky” puts Poland back in the driver’s seat as she centers on the insecurities and doubts of relationship questions that have been posed for centuries. The hopes and quandaries, the questions of allegiance, belligerence and lust fired through and through with life’s most cumbersome roadblock, trust. Simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar and horn placement puts this sensitive and emotional song high on the shelf of remembrance.
Title-track “Circus Head” is an odd and pretty little freak show. Creaking in on rickety, back porch violin and music box piano, Poland enunciates hypnotically into the verse. Dancing lyrically with the subject at hand, Jessica takes the pale and melancholic hand of sadness, rising and turning under the glittering disco balls, a hand full of pills washed down with booze. Yellow rainbow subject matter glistens as accordions waltz you off into the funhouse background. This is where Poland’s influential time spent with Nicole Atkins shines through. Covered in layers of thoughtful instrumentation, Poland and crew waste not one horn oompah or ivory twinkle on their sideshow journey into “Circus Head.”
Charlotte Sometimes is one of those quietly rising artists that have done so much more than many horn-tooting locals. Humble, down-to-earth and funny, you would never expect the life experience and dealings that she’s had with the industry thus far at such a young age. But to me, that’s good. It’s the sign of an artist concerned with becoming more than just another Friday night performer at the local bar. It’s the sign of someone who understands and embraces the past, and is preparing to transport to a three ring future of musical success. For more information on Jessica Poland, Charlotte Sometimes and her new EP, Circus Head, check out charlottesometimesmusic.com.