I first heard Jill Andrews' voice roughly two years ago, echoing around the special corner of hell the internet that is reserved for Smashing Pumpkins fan forums and the people who post on them (myself included). The clip in question was a cover of the Pumpkins classic "Today" by the band that Andrews was playing in at the time, the Everybodyfields. To give some context, the general consensus amongst Pumpkins fans, and especially the foaming at the mouth fanboy commonly found on the aforementioned forums, is that Pumpkins covers tend to range from mediocre to unlistenable, which made the overwhelmingly positive response the Everybodyfields' cover was getting all the more strange. "Best SP cover ever!", "who is that girl? her voice is phenomenal!", etcetera...you get the idea, right?
While the cover certainly made an impression, the band themselves languished in my "check these guys out sometime" folder for some months, until right around the time Ryan Adams went batshit crazy, married Mandy Moore, started releasing out metal albums on his website at an alarming rate, and talked about reforming Whiskeytown, which eventually led me to checking out said band's catalog. The usual chain of discoveries followed — first Uncle Tupelo and Wilco's earlier work, then Steve Earle, The Byrds, and even our own Tractor Kings — but ultimately, I was led right back to The Everybodyfields. Their almost post-rockish sense of scope, distance and excruciating deliberateness created an impact that more than surpassed the other bands I was listening to at the time.
And of course, they promptly went and broke up. While I was never able to see them live, the band's three studio albums, in particular 2007's Nothing is Okay, have managed to stay in my rotation far longer than Stranger's Almanac or Anodyne could ever hope to, and have even snuck into the sacred folder of CDs that can be found perched on the dash of my minivan for instant mobile listening.
While Andrews' solo material retains the same core themes of love and reminiscence as the Everybodyfields, it largely does away with the hazy, nuanced arrangements and soaring vocal harmonies that were the band's trademark in favor of a more immediate approach, incorporating more overt influences from singer-songwriter and even outright country traditions — not to say that's a bad thing by any means.
Nowhere is this stylistic shift clearer than on the opening track, "Worth Keeping", from her self-titled debut EP. Within the space of six minutes, it moves from a plaintive, American Football-esque fingerpicking section to a set of melodic, almost poppy verses. Speaking of verses, I have to admit I was a bit worried at the thought of Andrews' voice without the accompaniment of Sam Quinn, the other Everybodyfields vocalist. Never fear, though — Andrews' voice goes far above simply meeting the bar. Put simply, it's absolutely enchanting. It manages to balance being bright and sugary-sweet with being mournfully resigned, and utterly steals the show on the EP. While the other five songs sit squarely on the gloomier side of Whiskeytown territory (it certainly doesn't hurt that Andrews' voice is a dead-ringer for Caitlin Cary's), they're no less engaging of a listen. Ultimately, the entire EP is alt-country at it's finest, haunting and depressing, yet engrossing in a way that almost makes you wish you could be sad forever.
Jill Andrews performs tonight at the Cowboy Monkey, with an opening set from Kayla Brown and the Dulcet Kin. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and costs $7 at the door.