Juliana Hatfield

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Perhaps shortsightedly, I left Juliana Hatfield behind with my babydoll dresses and doc martens sometime after her fantastic “Become What You Are” cd. Once college arrived, I was too busy selling off all my cd’s for beer money to notice any new releases offered up by Juliana and her various bands (Blake Babies, Some Girls and The Juliana Hatfield Three). Clearly I have missed quite a bit, because this year marks her twentieth year making music and her ninth solo album. It’s rumored that the title of this cd – “How To Walk Away” – refers to more than just what one does at the ending of something ordinary, but that it may mark the retirement of Hatfield from the realm of music altogether. Prominently on this cd are the themes of what is left behind when all the colors of hope and anticipation for the future has worn away and the task of finding something left that is worthy of holding onto is all that remains.

The world was first introduced to Hatfield’s girlish voice and jangling guitar in the late 80’s after her attendance at the Berklee College of Music where she met future Blake Babies members Freda Love and John Strohm. The band was actually named by famed poet Allen Ginsberg during a reading he was giving at Harvard University; the band asked him to give them a name for the band and he replied “Blake Babies” – most likely inspired by William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. After the Black Babies breakup in 1991 and four indie albums later, Hatfield was signed as a solo artist to Atlantic Records where she formed the Juliana Hatfield Three along with bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Phillips. Hitting at the hottest time possible for alternative female singer songwriters, Hatfield quickly rose to pop-indie darling; making the covers of Sassy and Spin magazines, releasing hits like “My Sister” and “Spin The Bottle” and touring with the all-female lineup of Lillith Fair all cemented her place in 90’s cultural history. By 1998 however, musical tastes were quickly shifting and Atlantic kept sending her back to the drawing board in order to come up with a “hit single”; she asked to be released from her contract and was obliged. What has followed for Hatfield has been a decade of mostly independently produced and recorded albums which found her experimenting (like with “Bed”, recorded in it’s entirety in only 6 days or “In Exile Dio”, where she collaborated with highly commercial producers and engineers) in a sometimes hit (2000’s “Beautiful Creature”), sometimes miss fashion. In 2005, she released the tepidly-received “Made In China” as her first offering on her very own DIY label Ye Olde Records.

These days, whether it’s more a product of Hatfield giving up all notions of commercial success or simply having dropped the need for public recognition for her creative ventures, she seems to have melted more into her voice and her own signature sound than ever before. Along with an aptly titled autobiography just released called “When I Grow Up: A Memoir”, “How To Walk Away” is a look at what happens when you get older and your dreams still remain in an halcyon past. Produced and recorded at Stratosphere Sound in New York by the infamous Andy Chase from the alt-rock band Ivy, “How To Walk Away” gazes deeply into itself as it struggles with the vast disappointment of the realities of love and loneliness. Featuring guest appearances by Richard Bulter of the Psychedelic Furs (on “This Lonely Love”), Matthew Caws from Nada Surf (on “Such A Beautiful Girl”), Tracy Bonham on violin and Jody Porter from Fountains Of Wayne on guitar, the album reveals a subterranean sensuousness to Hatfield that just hadn’t been discovered in her early twenties.

A melancholy beauty and acceptance seems to have filled in the places where once self-doubt and uneasiness stood as awkwardly as a petulant teenager. Opening track “The Fact Remains” finds her waking up to the realization that she stuck around in a deception-filled love affair (“I stayed till there was no more air in the room/And my tears no longer moved you/ Till you lied and you lied again”) over sun-washed guitars and synths. In the richly textured “This Lonely Love”, Hatfied laments a love that remains out of reach (“How I wish I could escape the human things/ Don’t take me for a woman/ I am only the song you sing”) whispering softly and heartbreakingly at the end – “I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone”.

The gift of writing vulnerable and evocative lyrics has never left Hatfield and remains the strongest feature of her body of work. The two most noteworthy tracks for me both fall under the spell of her clever and refined lyricism: “My Baby” and “Just Lust.” On “My Baby”, she writes of the painful awareness that her baby has fallen out of love with her (“He used to look in my eyes and talk to me/ But now we just have sex and watch TV/ And when he touches my body/ There’s something off with the chemistry”) over lucent melodies that if not exactly disguising the hurt, at least softens its caustic blow. “Just Lust” changes gears completely and find Hatfield cruising in the post feminist driver’s seat where she reminds someone that “It’s just lust/ It doesn’t mean I love you.”

An album this honest and sincere in it’s assessment of love, loss and survival after being the it-girl of the 90’s that also manages to avoid acrimonious clichés is certainly worth a listen. Ultimately it is Juliana Hatfield herself that remains her own unfailing hero; holding on tenaciously to her sense of integrity may be the one thing that keeps her inching closer and closer to what she keeps searching for.

 

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My name is Barbara Fara. Musicincider.com is my baby. I am a psychic and a photographer-and a writer! I am more than a little crazy, because I love taking pictures with people body surfing over my head

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