While many singer-songwriters possess the gift of literate lyrics, Jonatha Brooke has also shown an ability to marry these lyrics to tuneful melodies. Through her work with her band the Story and her continued growth as a solo artist, she has explored the world of relationships against an intriguing folk-pop-rock backdrop. Brooke took her place among the new breed of women performers, from Paula Cole to Alanis Morisette, in the mid-1990s and beyond. Unlike these artists, however, she eventually worked independently of major record labels by starting her own label and choosing her husband, Allain Mallet, as her producer. TJ McGrath in Music Hound Folk noted that "Brooke, a descendant of Virginia Woolf, writes poetry set to music that carries you up and over the plains of ho-hum experience and into a dream-world of ambiguity and paradox."
Brooke met Jennifer Kimball as a freshman at Amherst College in 1981 and the pair teamed up as Jonatha and Jennifer. The duo, while continuing to perform sporadically after college, eventually went their separate ways: Brooke joined a dance company and Kimball worked for a publishing firm. In 1989, however, the duo—eventually to be re-named the Story—recorded a demonstration record at the suggestion of Brooke's husband, Mallet. They submitted "Over Oceans" to Green Linnet and were signed; after the Story's first album, however, they moved to Elektra Records and the label reissued their debut. The Story released its first album, Grace in Gravity, in 1991, an album featuring the intertwining of Brooke and Kimball's voices. "Grace in Gravity," wrote McGrath, "is a swooping, creative exercise in jazz rhythms and folk-rock with flashes of brilliance and charm." The duo released a second album, The Angel in the House, in 1993 to more critical fanfare. Citing differences in artistic direction, however, Kimball and Brooke went their separate ways in the fall of 1994.
In 1995 Brooke finished her first album, Plumb, for Blue Thumb, an album that found her establishing her solo voice. "Kimball is gone," wrote Steven P. Marsh in the Bergen County, New Jersey, Record. "But the literate writing that informed the first incarnation of the Story remains. And this time around, the singing is even better and more expressive." Brooke wrote the material for her second album during a ten-day stretch at a cottage in Nantucket. "It forced me to be disciplined and assemble all the bits and pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that I'd carried around in my head or on napkins or ticket stubs for a year," she told Gene Stout in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The title, 10 Cent Wings, was taken from a misspelled marquee Brooke had seen while traveling that advertised "10-cent (chicken) wings and free dip." It was also her first album released with support from a major label, MCA, and it promised to reach a broader audience than had her previous efforts. "With the release of 10 Cent Wings," wrote Darryl Cater in All Music Guide, "Jonatha Brooke completed the transition from her band the Story to a solo career."
Brooke's first two albums had been well received, but her career took an un-planned detour during her 1998 concert schedule to promote 10 Cent Wings. The tour had reached its mid-point when she received a phone call from MCA: she would be dropped from the label. Caught off guard, Brooke was at first unsure of her next move. After two weeks, however, she made the decision to form her own label, Bad Dog Records, and recorded a live album to release on the new label. "Live was a testing ground," she told Victoria Rios in the Colorado Springs Gazette. "It was a personal triumph and a way to get this little fledgling thing off the ground, but not have to prove myself with a new CD right away." While Brooke missed the ability of a major label to promote and support her, she valued her independence more.
In 2001 Brooke released Steady Pull in both CD and DVD formats. "I don't even own a DVD-Audio player yet," she told Jonathan Takiff at Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, "but we borrowed a player to check it out and were blown away by the things we didn't know were there." The album, like her previous two, received a warm welcome from critics. "The inspiration is easy to glimpse," wrote Kelly McCartney in All Music Guide. "It's a wonderful record, smart and catchy, interesting and fresh." Brooke also received an offer to record an original song for Disney in 2002 to be used in the animated film Return to Never Land. The song "I'll Try" worked like thematic glue, appearing in important scenes and during the closing credits. Brooke also sang a new version of "Second Star to the Right." The movie helped introduce Brooke's voice to a mainstream audience. "You know, now that I think about it," Brooke joked with Takiff, "maybe I could be the next Britney Spears."
In 2004 Brooke released Back in the Circus, an album that successfully melded her songwriting to tasteful pop-rock arrangements. "She's arrived on the top floor landing with Back in the Circus," wrote Johnny Loftus in All Music Guide, "a typically audacious effort that showcases her singing and writing even as it flirts with new musical directions." The album included Brooke's covers of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," Brian Wilson's (of the Beach Boys) "God Only Knows," and Alan Parsons's "Eye in the Sky." Back in the Circus rose to number 20 on the Top Heatseekers chart, and received airplay on Triple A radio.
Brooke remains a believer in spreading her music through lengthy tours. "I think," she told Rios, "it's the only sure-fire, tried-and-true way of establishing an audience and keeping it." In 2005 she teamed with Joan Osborne and Jane Siberry at the Women's Rock Festival in Del Mar, California, and continued to perform solo shows in New York, Connecticut, and Maine. "Beguilingly honest and intriguing in her lyrics, melodically sophisticated yet immediately accessible," wrote Takiff, "Brooke restores artistry to the popular song with a distinctiveness not heard or enjoyed since the prime of Joni Mitchell and Carole King."
For the Record . . .
Born on January 23, 1964, in IL.
Formed the Story with Jennifer Kimball, 1989-94; re leased solo album Plumb on Blue Thumb, 1995; re leased 10-Cent Wings on MCA, 1997; formed Bad Dog Records and released Live, 1999, Steady Pull, 2001, and Back in the Circus, 2004.
Addresses: Booking—Steve Levine, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211, phone: (310) 550-4436. Website—Jonatha Brooke Official Website: http://www.jonathabrooke.com.
Plumb, Blue Thumb, 1995.
10 Cent Wings, Refuge/MCA, 1997.
Live, Bad Dog, 1999.
Steady Pull, Bad Dog, 2001.
Back in the Circus, Bad Dog, 2004.
Waters, Neil, editor, Music Hound Folk, Visible Ink Press, 1998, p. 768.
Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), June 8, 2001.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 18, 2002.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), February 16, 1996.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 21, 1997, p. 6.
"Jonatha Brooke," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (June 10, 2005).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Brooke, Jonatha." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brooke-jonatha
"Brooke, Jonatha." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brooke-jonatha
Born: Boston, Massachusetts, January 1964
Best-selling album since 1990: Steady Pull (2001)
Hit songs since 1990: "Crumbs," "Steady Pull"
Singer/songwriter Jonatha Brooke thought she would become a dancer until she reached college. She lived with her parents, Nancy and Robert Nelson, in London, where she studied ballet at an all-girls school. It is unsurprising that Brooke started off as a dancer because her songs often have an unusual rhythmic sensibility. Brooke decided against dancing and started to write songs while studying English at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Brooke met Jennifer Kimball in 1982 and formed the folk-pop duo the Story about a year later.
With their unusual melodies and strong storytelling style, the Story found a home with folk music lovers and singer/songwriter enthusiasts. Their first album, Grace and Gravity, was released on the small label Green Linnet, and was eventually picked up by Elektra in 1992. The duo's second album, The Angel in the House (1993), an Elektra release, enjoyed steady play on college radio, thanks to its unusual arrangements, poetic lyrics, and almost off-kilter harmonies.
Before the release of The Angel in the House, Brooke married jazz pianist Alain Mallet, who co-produced the album, played piano on some tracks, and provided some of the arrangements. Personal differences surfaced among the two performers, and after touring and critical accolades had helped to build a loyal fan base, Brooke and Kimball parted ways in 1994. Brooke went solo and, billing herself somewhat misleadingly as Jonatha Brooke and the Story, released the album Plumb (1995), under the MCA imprint Blue Thumb Records.
Because Brooke wrote most of the duo's songs, Plumb does not stray too far from the familiar territory of insightful, clever lyrics and complex, soaring melodies. Her second solo release, Ten Cent Wings (1997), feels more like a pop music pastiche; it, too, was produced by her husband but was mixed by the renowned Bob Clearmountain. Every track maintains her straightforward delivery and thoughtful lyrics, but the single, "Crumbs"—an angry, midtempo rock song with electric guitar, double-tracked vocals, and even a string section—marked the largest departure from her previous, contemplative folk sound.
Ten Cent Wings was the last album Brooke released with MCA; they dropped her from their roster as major labels consolidated and retained only those artists whose records would make them the most money. It also seems that Brooke and Mallet parted ways around this time; it is her last album with his participation. Indeed, some of its songs suggest an emotional impasse, especially "Land-mine," with the sad lyrics "I give my love to you/And you walk away too soon."
Brooke created her own label, Bad Dog Records, and released a live album in 1999. Soon after, Brooke brought in Bob Clearmountain to produce her fourth album, Steady Pull (2001), a spirited, funky effort with touches of R&B (as in the title track) and straight-ahead rock and roll, thanks to squalling guitars on "Red Dress." It was her best-selling album, and many of her fans followed her along in this new direction. Brooke married her longtime manager, Patrick Rains, in the south of France in 2002. Although she has been compared to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Brooke has become more of a rock-and-roll artist than either of these iconic folk singers.
With the Story: The Angel in the House (1993). As Jonatha Brooke and the Story: Plumb (Blue Thumb/MCA, 1995). As Jonatha Brooke: Ten Cent Wings (MCA,1997); Jonatha Brooke Live (Bad Dog Records, 1999); Steady Pull (Bad Dog Records, 2001).
"Brooke, Jonatha." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/brooke-jonatha
"Brooke, Jonatha." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/brooke-jonatha