"Gemini" EP, Jack and White

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Photo: Trever Hoehne

In 2008, I kind of fell in love with Brooke White on American Idol. She was everything I was but couldn't express at the time: a beautiful mess of smiles, tears and laughter.

In the months following the seventh season of American Idol, Brooke released her sophomore album, "High Hopes and Heartbreak." It is as the title proclaims: a mish-mosh of songs high and low, faster and slower. It has a distinctively mellow '70s sound to it, with a couple doses of slightly more disco-driven tunes (like the title track, "High Hopes and Heartbreak"). The lead single, "Radio Radio," experiments with a toy piano. "Phoenix" and "Little Bird" are reminiscent of nursery songs, with an upbeat hint of wonder and use of instruments common in '70s music. On the whole, "High Hopes and Heartbreak" depicts a singer who doesn't seem conscious of the fact that she is holding onto a fear of fully using her voice (both literally and figuratively), and of exploring her musical potential.

"High Hopes and Heartbreak," in itself, is a departure from her pre-Idol album "Songs From The Attic," which is good in its own right but is bland in comparison. A far more piano-driven pop album, "Songs From The Attic" seems to delve more deeply into serious issues than "High Hopes and Heartbreak," which has a nostalgic feel to it, from its melodies to its lyrics.

After "High Hopes and Heartbreak," White seemed to go quiet on the music front. She did a made-for-television movie for FOX. She and her husband built a house. And then, it seemed, Jack and White sprung out of nowhere.

Photo: Matt Johnson
Hot on the heels of the success of the collaborative duo The Civil Wars (Joy Williams and John Paul White), Jack and White do the duo thing in a completely different way. Jack Matranga and Brooke White form a highly unlikely pair, with Matranga coming from an indie pop-rock background. The two met to co-write music for Brooke's third solo effort (not unlike the story of how The Civil Wars came to be), and the rest is history.

For my part as a Brooke White fan, I find "Gemini" quite different from its forebears, for good reason. It's clear that with Matranga by her side, Brooke finds her stride and a confidence that was only beginning to show on "High Hopes and Heartbreak." Predictable, for fans of White, is the title "Gemini." Brooke has always prided herself in being a June baby (also the name of the indie record label she formed to release "High Hopes and Heartbreak," and now "Gemini").

Also predictable: the "Gemini" EP has more than just tinges of the '70s. But this time, it's infused with a lot more rock than soft, willowy pop. The lyrics form periods and exclamations instead of ellipses. The melodies are bolder, maybe even angrier, than White's previous releases. White's voice, the lead voice on all 6 tracks, is stronger and less strident, though 2009's Brooke White resurfaces for a moment in the insecurity of "Telephone Games." The EP is solid, fearlessly life-affirming.

"Double Trouble" is so far my favorite off of the "Gemini" EP. It has a decidedly Brooke White breeziness to it, with plenty of references to her (sometimes) beloved Southern California. (On "High Hopes and Heartbreak," she wrote "California Song," a nod to several songwriting greats.) And "Feathers" is arguably the most '70s-inspired; a song that screams "sunny Saturday afternoon bike ride through Malibu." What sets this song apart from White's catalogue of breezy '70s-inspired songs is a level of complexity not noticeable in most of "High Hopes and Heartbreak": the melody is layered, instruments varied, vocals multidimensional ... together creating a most simple cheerful pop song.

While White's previous works have questioned life and love, often with a tone of melancholy, it seems Jack and White have found their place in the world and they are here to shout it out. They are both Geminis, "fixed" but "broken, guarded but open, grounded in foolish pride." It seems that with the help of Matranga, White has discovered who she is and what life is about: "a contradiction," and a grown-up version of the beautiful mess of smiles, tears and laughter she once was. If this collaboration is an indication of what Brooke White is capable of as she grows in confidence and experience, I'm in for the ride.

The "Gemini" EP is upbeat and quirky, a fearless exclamation (and not a whisper) of hope to the world.

Gemini EP

Gemini EP
Jack and White
iTunes, August 23
Other digital retailers, August 30

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2 comments

  1. Wow, great review! I also fell hard for Brooke in 2008 on AI, and loved her HH&H release in 2009. I was going through a horrific breakup at the time, and her song "Smile" just devastated me, and still does whenever I hear it.
    I agree that this new collaboration has an interesting complexity that seems like a big step forward musically. I was unaware of Jack Matranga before but now would like to learn more about him. With Brooke, I'm hooked for life, and will follow her career wherever it goes!

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Rob! I loved Brooke for her vulnerability back in 2008, for her courage in 2009, and now for her fearlessness with Jack ... it amazes me how much she's grown as an artist in such a short length of time. Like you, I'm along for the ride and can't wait to see where her career takes her :).

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