Jill Sobule

I Never Learned to Swim: Jill Sobule 1990-2000

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Wisely avoiding the "best-of" or "greatest-hits" title that would be stretching the concept for an artist who only had one moderately successful song reach the charts, this is an excellent ten-year summation of Jill Sobule's career. It's also a perfect sampler of her most immediately satisfying work, mixing in previously unreleased retro-radio gems such as the concert favorite "Big Shoes" with her singer/songwriter folk-pop. It's not surprising that Sobule's music is admired by musicians as diverse as Don Henley (for whom she opened), Lloyd Cole (whose band the Negatives she was a member of), Warren Zevon, and the Go Go's Jane Weidlin. It's the latter artist she sounds most like, with her innocent, high-pitched vocals and low-key yet magnetic pixie-ish approach. Her sprightly voice and jaunty attitude transforms even the most serious and wordy material like "Heroes" -- a wry listing of her personal influences' worst attributes ("Raymond Chandler drunk and depressed, Tennessee Williams drunk and depressed, I think I'll just get drunk and depressed") -- into singalong material. "Stoned Soul Picnic," the album's magnificent opener, is thankfully rescued from the obscure Time & Love Laura Nyro tribute, and is one of this set's many highlights. The multi-label compilation also dusts off an intriguing track from Sobule's Todd Rundgren-produced debut. The quiet, album-closing film noir-ish "Smoke Dreams," another song making its first appearance, shows how confidently the singer shifts into loungy Peggy Lee-styled fare. Eclectic, literate, and, above all, tuneful, I Never Learned to Swim is a revealing and consistently entertaining look at one of the '90s more interesting, accomplished, and regrettably little-known singer/songwriters.

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