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Folk-pop

'The Works' mostly works

August 26, 2008
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Jonatha Brooke

The Works (Bad Dog)

ESSENTIAL "My Sweet and Bitter Bowl"

Following her '90s work in The Story with Jennifer Kimball, Jonatha Brooke's seventh solo release marks her as the first woman to set Woody Guthrie's lyrics to music. It's not entirely a solo effort, though. A notable core band -- keyboard player Joe Sample, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Steve Gadd -- performs and guests include Greg Leisz adding lilting pedal-steel guitar to the doleful "My Battle," and Keb' Mo', who plays dobro and duets on the lusty, bluesy "All You Gotta Do Is Touch Me." Still, it's Brooke's forceful, girlish voice that dominates, and she begins brilliantly with the driving opener, "My Sweet and Bitter Bowl," a standout in a solid set, though one that rarely sparkles. Unlike Billy Bragg and Wilco's "Mermaid Avenue" releases, which retained Guthrie's Dust Bowl folk essence, the lyrics are seemingly a base for Brooke's singer-songwriter pop. That perhaps explains why two of the songs ("Little Bird" and "Taste of Danger") are Brooke's own compositions, an inconsistency that bolsters the disc as a Brooke record, not a Guthrie one. [Linda Laban]

Jonatha Brooke performs at the Wilbur Theatre on Oct. 16.

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