Juliana Hatfield,
Gold Stars 1992-2002:
The Juliana Hatfield Collection

(Rounder/Zoe, 2002)

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit up front that when Juliana Hatfield's first few albums came out, my daughters were more in the target audience age range than I, and with the exception of one single, I was otherwise unfamiliar with her music until I encountered this very impressive career-spanning collection. For the uninitiated, Gold Stars 1992-2002 is the perfect introduction to Hatfield's music, containing tracks from each of her seven previous albums.

For the Hatfield fan, this collection is totally essential for its four new tracks and three previously unreleased tracks, including two from the unreleased God's Foot album. The CD booklet contains nicely done liner notes including personnel and recording data, as well as comments from Hatfield giving each track her personal perspective.

Except for two covers, all of the songs were written by Hatfield with most tracks featuring her excellent guitar work; she also occasionally plays bass and keyboards. The songs are arranged chronologically and you can easily hear her growth as an artist.

Taken from her first album, "Everybody Loves Me But You" is a great song with vocals that sound somewhat like Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Gos, but more intense. By the second album, the sound is already richer and more complex, with more vocal range, great melodies, crashing guitar breaks, and lyrics like these from "My Sister":

I miss my sister, why'd she go?
She's the one who would have taken me to my first all-ages show.
It was the Violent Femmes and the Del Fuegos,
Before they had a record out, before they went gold and started to grow.

That she could even write lyrics like this to fit the melody, much less have them rhyme, was an early indicator of the level of creativity that Hatfield brings to her music.

In the liner notes, Hatfield explains that "Spin the Bottle," also from her second album, was the result of a self-challenge to write a song in 5/4 rather than 4/4 time signature. This catchy single was also included on the Reality Bites soundtrack. (Although the song may seem to take you back to sixth or seventh grade, Hatfield maintains that she has never actually played the game of spin the bottle.) "Universal Heatbeat" rocks hard with electric piano adding some nice depth to the sound. "Fleur de Lys" is a good example of how the sweetness of her voice provides the perfect counterpoint to the strong guitar-based rock music, with some dazzling lead guitar work, all by Hatfield. On most tracks she's accompanied only by bass and drums.

While many female singer-songwriters are not known for their guitar ability, Hatfield's guitar work is superb throughout, and her overall musical sensibility sets a standard that any musician would want to aspire to, regardless of gender.

"Sneaking Around" has a Rolling Stones-style riff that Hatfield says came to her at a soundcheck. "Somebody is Waiting For Me" was written one Halloween night between trips to the door to give out candy, according to the notes. This is another hook-laden catchy melody around which she wraps her sweet voice, sounding like it could just as easily have been recorded in 1966 as in 2000. "Cry in the Dark" is another great tune, with the vocals trending toward more and more expressive.

Hatfield's take on Sting's Police classic "Every Breath You Take" is exquisite. It's got a gutsy guitar sound, great vocals and an excellent mix; it's a gem that was originally released on the Beautiful Creature/Juliana's Pony: Total System Failure box set. Also included here is her version of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," which Hatfield says she recorded on a whim back in 1998. Young's original version on After the Goldrush is so simple and heartfelt that it's almost an unlikely choice for a cover tune but Hatfield sounds totally sincere with suitable mellow backing that's true to the original.

"We Will Rise Again" is a sweet-sounding pop song that Hatfield wrote "for all my musician comrades from the 20th Century who have fallen into obscurity." She might be a bit dismayed to hear that the same daughter who used to listen to her early records as a teenager, got in the car the other day while this track was on and, not recognizing the artist, asked if it was the Corrs, which one might consider a compliment although it was not intended as such. Forget the labels like alternative or independent (she is known as both); Juliana Hatfield is a rocker of the highest order. I found this collection to be not only interesting and appealing, but compelling listening from start to finish. The highest compliment I can give Gold Stars 1992-2002 is that it makes me want to go out and pick up all of the individual albums and catch up with everything I've missed. I give it four big gold stars.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 19 April 2003

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