Juliana Hatfield,
In Exile Deo
(Rounder/Zoe, 2004)

Juliana Hatfield's 10-year retrospective best-of collection (2002) is one of the best records I've had the privilege of reviewing for Rambles.NET, so I was highly interested to hear her new release, In Exile Deo. Although she's been busy the last few years with side projects such as a Blake Babies reunion album (2001) and forming the band Some Girls (2003), this is her first album of new solo material since 2000. It would not be quite fair to compare a single album of new songs to a best of collection, but In Exile Deo holds its own quite nicely as a follow-up to Gold Stars.

"Get in Line" kicks off the record with an insistent loud chord sequence that propels this catchy tune with a nice blast of energy. Hatfield's electric guitar lead will leave you breathless. "Jamie's in Town" starts off with a classic Hatfield riff, then the lyrics quickly go deep and suddenly we seem to have wandered into a concept album dealing with heavy-duty dysfunctional relationships. Autobiographical or not, this is powerful stuff.

"Tourist" is quintessential Hatfield, singing "You're just a tourist in her world" and combining a '60s girl group dynamic with modern sensibilities; you could almost imagine the Shirelles singing this. "Some Rainy Sunday" has a slightly heavier riff but features the same sort of nice, clear, sweet vocals. "Tomorrow Never Comes," written by Dot Allison, is the only song here that Hatfield didn't write; she gives it a gorgeous arrangement of acoustic guitar, strings and breathy vocals. The chorus is sweet and infectious with a great hook. The lyrics beg for forgiveness, sort of like an update of "Yesterday."

"Forever builds the energy level with a muscular guitar sound, a medium tempo and Hatfield's sweet vocals on top. "Because We Love You" has another nice electric sound, complete with lyrical reference to CSN&Y's "Ohio" and a sound that is vaguely reminiscent of Poco's "Good Feelin' to Know." Even the lesser tracks here are worth a listen. "Dirty Dog" sounds like she's shredding an ex, but the kind of things she says she's not "down with" in this song kind of make me sad that she would even need to say it. "Singing in the Shower" is musically under-developed and lyrically seems to pity the older male segment of her audience. A cynic might think that Hatfield is giving us a peek into her idea of the rock-star world on "It Should Have Been You," but this too could be roleplay. "Sunshine" has a chorus that brings to mind the sound of the Bangles, at least as a jumping-off point. "Don't Let Me Down" rocks in a most agreeable manner. The raw pain of "My Enemy" is so direct and emotional that it ends the record on an intense, if somewhat scary, note.

In Exile Deo provides more evidence that Hatfield is one of our finest songwriters, clearly on par with Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and the like. Combine the pop craftsmanship of the songs with Hatfield's appealing vocals and her consummate skill as a guitarist, and you have a triple-threat artist who is highly regarded by way too small a circle of fans. If there's any justice, this record should help change that. For anyone who would like to hear more of Juliana Hatfield's music than has been released to date, she is currently offering 31 previous unreleased vault tracks on her website for download purchase under an honor system experiment that may only be available for a limited time; all are well worth the suggested payment.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 16 April 2005

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