By Greg Allard
(Originally published in the April 2011 print issue of Insite Magazine
Four and a half stars Janna Pelle is the kind of singer who it seems could fit into any genre or era of music history. With even a cursory listen to “Bridge to Nowhere,” one could easily imagine seeing her perform on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert in the 1970s or as a leading contestant on American Idol today. Her soulful, sometimes smooth, sometimes raspy voice sounds like she’s the grown up lovechild of Sean Lennon and Fiona Apple with the alter ego of Lady Gaga living inside of her and planning to breakout at any moment. The 10-song EP, available at jphalfsteps.bandcamp.com, is a tasty sampling of an enormously marketable band that has grown even more since this 2009 release, as anyone who has seen them live can attest to. But don’t be fooled—this EP rocks and pops all at the same time.
The opening track, “When Skies Are Grey” is a simple but beautiful cover of the old country-folk classic “You Are My Sunshine.” Next is “Sand In My Eyes,” where Janna’s vocals intensify to the sound of her spacey keyboards coupled with the trippy guitar sounds of Stephen Parsons. Parsons, by the way, produced the album.
Janna’s introspective lyrics throughout the album demonstrate clearly that she is a young woman wise beyond her years. “Universal Law of Gravity” connects the universal macrocosm with the microcosm of personal relationships. “Sunshine State of Mind” is one of the EP’s best, with Janna’s powerful voice displaying a Madonna-like quality from her “Ray of Light” era.
“Double-Sided Mirror” continues the train of awesome. Janna’s piano intro, coupled with Parsons’ riffs and the driving bass of Patrick Wankhof, shows how tight this band can play together. It is here that Janna’s Fiona Apple incarnation takes full effect. “Soulsearch University” features the haunting lyrics “The ghosts of the past have your heart in their grasp and they take over when your brain isn’t dead.”
The title track “Bridge to Nowhere” asks “What am I doing here on this bridge to nowhere when I know I don’t care about what’s on the other side,” with a hook that makes you want to find out. And who could resist the cutting wit of “Maybe if you took that joint out of your mouth you’d have time to kiss me” from the track “Don’t Know Where to Start”?
The album ends with the heartfelt “Your Biggest Fan,” reminding us how complicated relationships can sometimes be.
The title track’s lyrics “Keep working at it like someone’s paying me until someone’s paying me” makes you hope Janna Pelle & the Half Steps do just that.