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Underdog Victorious is the kind of album that makes listeners feel smart. Catchy and upbeat, it connects instantly to spark a Friday-at-five vibe, but it also sinks in deep on several tracks. "Tel Aviv" takes on sex slavery ("I think of my mother / I send her what I can / She thinks I'm a waitress / She's proud I'm a waitress") and the title track hopeless dorkiness, with its fat-kid protagonist, but even the heavy-subject numbers have a way of veering hard toward the lighhearted. Sobule borrows generously from Chicago for "Cinnamon Park," a throwback stoner anthem that should have been the hit of the summer, and her sleepyheaded schoolgirl voice wins us over in its lovable-kook way as it struggles to keep pace with the kicky "Joey," about a has-been teen queen. Where other "quirky" musicians stagnate or flame out, Sobule only gets stronger. Underdog Victorious is her triumph-tinged proof that in the gets-better-with-every-album race, she's the rare real deal. --Tammy La Gorce
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She keeps to her format---there are whimsy songs("Jetpack" where she glides high above the city), the nerd prevails song("Underdog Victorious" which is sung with such joy that the meadering lyrics don't really matter) and the painful growing up number("Strawberry Gloss" where a gangly girl dreams of a happier future). All good, all classic Sobule.
There is also one surprise, a turning of her talent ,"Tel Aviv" where a young prostitute, an immigrant, dreams of home as a customer picks her
and takes her. It is a spare number, no frills, just raw emotion---make all the rawer---with Sobule's understated lyrics. An achievment.
Oh by the way the liner notes come with a crossword puzzle, a homage to her hobby of solving crossword puzzles in her spare time. And the puzzle, like her work, is accessible.
Unfortunately, Billy Bragg had to follow this, and W.C. Fields is right, never follow dogs or children. The show was a disaster as he kept obsessing out loud about how he was going to top the event. His solution was, shall we say, less than spectacular and I'll leave it at that. My opinion of Billy Bragg has not recovered from that concert, and that's too bad; his songs and the recorded delivery of them are genius.
The event did highlight however what a great live performer Ms. Sobule is, I bought this album, and all the songs are great (I can't remember the last time I could say that). She's incredibly witty, funny, and has a real gift for a pop tune. She's also dark behind a completely smiling act, and that's deeply appealing. I would say, if you like Dan Bern, you'll like her and vice versa, but how many people is that going to help? Both artists will cure what ails ya.
There are some great upbeat tunes here, which highlight this collection, if ya ask me. They include the title song, an anthemic tribute to losers who become winners; Cinnamon Park, a bouncy winner reminiscent of Chicago's Saturday in the Park, and Joey, a paean to Joey Heatherton.
Jill's cleverness is on display with songs like Jetpack, Freshman and Under the Disco Ball. Tender Love, Last Line, Tel Aviv and Thank Misery are mature, sad reflections.
Throughout, the production by Brad Jones and Robin Eaton mingle nostalgic touches with modern beats and melodies.
If you've liked Jill's previous efforts, you'll find this one of her best. And if you haven't heard Ms. Sobule before, you'll find an artist that combines great music, tremendous humor and heartbreaking insights--sometimes in the same song.