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The Blake Babies – Innocence and Experience

Mammoth Records, 1993

First off, I have to admit I have a small thing for Juliana Hatfield.  It probably started when I declared the Lemonheads’ “It’s a Shame About Ray” as one of my favorite albums.  I follow what Evan Dando does as well, but Hatfield’s light vocals on that release as well as her early Blake Babies stuff has always interested me.  Then there’s those curious eyes of hers.  She always looks a little angry or disappointed in most of her pictures, but that’s probably because one never finds her smiling much (take a look for yourself on Google images).  Finally, the fact that she’s from Boston and used to work at Newbury Comics completes the reasons as to why I’m always keeping an eye out for all things Hatfield.  I did know that this record by the Blake Babies was likely an old light pop affair off of the defunct Mammoth Records, so I figured it was going to be a safe bet for a solid listen at a discount.

The Blakes Babies are a trio that, when heard, instantly bring back those memories of the  early days in the nineties where the easygoing pop music was neither in your face nor particularly memorable.  Since this record is actually a collection of b-sides, demos, and live tracks most of the songs actually take place in the late eighties given when the band started.  For most of the record, songs revolve around the general approach of the “Rain” demo song.  There’s the jangly, light guitar that carries the comforting pop rock feeling throughout the song while Hatfield’s vulnerable vocals sing about an unfortunate relationship story.  Though songs like “Lament” (with Evan Dando on bass) and “Star” pick up the pace a little bit, every song is consistent in its sound and construction for the most part.  If you like your Blake Babies you’ll enjoy most of the songs on here.  However, if you’re new to the band you might get a little bored if you are used to more variety.

Even though most of the songs seem to blend in together for me, I will say that “Out There” stands out.  Perhaps it is because Hatfield’s vocals not only rise above the usual quiet level but they also sound double-tracked.  It also helps that the band picks up their level of volume during the chorus so as to wake you up after the slew of couch sinkers.  Another tune that may not be for everyone, but will win over those who like the original anyway, is the group’s upbeat cover of the Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes”.  Nice choice!  I also think that any band that does a Neil Young cover, like the Blake Babies do with a live version of “Over and Over”, is only trying to win me over.

Lots of listening choices for the Blake Babies.  You could head on over to their MySpace or Last.fm pages, or instead veer directly towards Juliana Hatfield’s website.

I feel that although this disc didn’t really put it together in terms of making a strong impression, one has to keep in mind that it is a b-sides and rarities collection.  This one is for the fans who already like the Blake Babies.  I wouldn’t start here if one was thinking of delving into the group’s music, but it’s still a decent record to start from if one wants to experience their sound.  “Sunburn” or “Earwig” are probably better examples of albums of what the group can do.

The Blake Babies took a lengthy hiatus after the release of this collection and only released one more record (“God Bless the Blake Babies”) in 2001 before ending things officially.  Juliana Hatfield, of course, has been releasing and self-releasing her own albums for quite awhile now.  I imagine she probably sounds a lot different now than she did nearly twenty years ago, but the pleasant vocals are probably still there.  If what you read about and hear from the Blake Babies interests you, then go pick up something new from Hatfield when you get a chance.  And uh, if you see anything by the Blake Babies or Hatfield for a few dollars or less at a local music store, ah … well, you know who to send a note to.  😀

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