Juliana's web

By MATT ASHARE  |  July 18, 2006

THE BLAKE BABIES: Complex arrangements, well-crafted hooks, dystopic lyrics, and a mix of jangle and hum.
Most artists evolve over the course of their careers, changing band mates, songwriting styles, etc. But Juliana Hatfield has woven a particularly complicated web since she formed the Blake Babies with fellow Berklee student John Strohm and his then girlfriend Freda Love in 1986. Back then, Hatfield sang and played bass, a role she retained when the Blakes reunited in 2000–2001. She also played bass on what many consider to be the best all-around Lemonheads disc, 1992’s It’s a Shame About Ray (Atlantic). Meanwhile, Love was carving out a niche in Indiana, first playing with Strohm in Antenna and then forming the Mysteries of Life with her husband, Jake Smith, though the Indiana indie-rock family tree is so extensive that there’s a Web site devoted to it.Hatfield could use one of those herself. Here’s a tripartite overview of her career.

Blake Babies | A classic post-punk indie-pop trio who’d pick up a couple of second guitarists along the way, the Blakes were still finding their sound on their 1987 debut, the nine-song Nicely, Nicely (reissued by Mammoth in 1994). Their two classics from the pre-alt-rock era are 1989’s Earwig and 1990’s Sunburn (both Mammoth), two discs that balance complex arrangements, well-crafted hooks, dystopic lyrics, and a mix of jangle and hum that Hatfield would return to a decade later, after a couple of near-miss hit singles. She’d also reunite with the Blake Babies for 2001’s God Bless the Blake Babies (Zoë/Rounder), on which the original members are joined by Evan Dando on a couple of tracks.

Juliana Hatfield | Hatfield’s career as a “solo” artist began on Mammoth with 1992’s Hey Babe, a disc that split the difference between the low-key indie pop of the Blake Babies and the leaner, meaner, tougher sound of 1993’s Become What You Are, a disc credited to the Juliana Hatfield Three (with Dean Fisher on bass and former Bullet LaVolta drummer Todd Philips). It featured polished alterna-rock tunes like “Spin the Bottle” and “My Sister.” The same approach prevails on 1995’s Only Everything (Atlantic), a grungy album that took her farther from her indie-rock roots.

All of that came to an end when Atlantic refused to release her subsequent album, and the next phase of Hatfield’s solo career began with the promising Bed (Zoë, 1998), on which she stripped down her sound and got more personal with her songwriting. That trend continued on 2000’s Beautiful Creature, a collection of wistful, reflective songs offset by the simultaneous release of the loud, punkish, belligerent Total System Failure, a disc credited to Juliana’s Pony. With that out of her, uh, system, she returned to singer-songwriter mode on 2004’s In Exile Deo (Zoë/Rounder) and last year’s Made in China, which she released on her own Ye Olde Records label.

Some Girls | The band name can’t help conjuring Mick and Keith, especially since this project began with an album, Feel It (Koch), that included a Robert Johnson cover (“Malted Milk”) and the bluesy tenor of Hatfield’s guitar. But Hatfield and Love, reunited from their Blake Babies days, affirm that the Stones were the farthest thing from their minds when the name was suggested to them. A trio completed by multi-instrumentalist Heidi Gluck on bass, Some Girls began as just another outlet for Hatfield’s singing and songwriting. Then when they reconvened in the studio last year to record Crushing Love (Koch), a full-length that comes with a bonus DVD of live and in-the-studio footage, Love and Gluck became more involved in the songwriting. And in addition to providing background harmonies, Gluck took over lead vox on a couple of tunes.

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