Future Perfect

Jill Knight

WobyMusik Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


San Luis Obispo, California native Jill Knight might just be the most conspicuously talented singer-songwriter-arranger-producer you haven't heard of -- yet.

Gifted with a rich, elemental voice that crests and tumbles like a waterfall, she employs it masterfully on this self-published debut album. The eclectic batch of folk-pop she moves through here ranges from engaging acoustic ballads to smartly conceived rock songs, with small touches of jazz and country thrown in for seasoning.

Equally as impressive as her voice and musical range, though, is Knight's knack for crafting witty, evocative and often passionate lyrics. Take the album's opener, "Jeans" for example. Building off a slumbering, funky backbeat, her voice becomes more and more playful each time she passes by the clever chorus:

"Wear me like your favorite pair of jeans
We feel good on each other
Stitch me up mend me
When I'm falling apart at the
Seems like we belong together"

From there she dives straight into the richly melodic "She Blows Away." Ironic to its core, the song offsets some of her prettiest vocals and a full band-plus-slide-and-cello sound with lyrics that steadily and matter-of-factly carve out a stark character sketch of a self-destructive woman in a downward spiral of addiction.

The album then threatens to peak prematurely with a truly riveting piece of emotional unburdening. Eric Clapton had his "Layla"; Jill Knight has "Don't Make Me Cry." Framed as a heartfelt entreaty to a conflicted lover, it blossoms into something much larger as two things occur: Knight steadily ups the ante with her extraordinarily soulful delivery, and it becomes clear the title's plea is directed as much to society at large as it is to the object of her affection -- another woman.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Knight clearly recognized she needed to follow up this powerhouse track with something entirely different, and she does, slipping smoothly into the sultry lounge jazz of "Rain." It's a brilliant move, diffusing the built-up tension with a completely fresh and more measured sound. "Rain" also features some of Knight's more pungent poetry: "Hungry and dry to the core / Waiting for the perfect cure / Words swirl above and turn into rain."

Here and throughout Future Perfect, Knight's band of supporting players repeatedly shines. In particular, the core group of Robin Roth on drums, Jeri Jones on lead guitar and Rob Strom on bass offer much more nuanced, punchy and versatile playing than you might have expected from a group of unknowns.

Knight rounds out the disc with several steadily rocking numbers (the ringing "Mysterious One," the thoughtful/propulsive title track, the Melissa Etheridge-ish "City" and the beautifully funky "Wonderful Sky") mixed in with three gorgeous ballads (the electric "Roses in Winter" and the acoustic "Eyes Wide Open" and "All in a Day").

The other high point lyrically is doubtless the sharp-tongued "All Good Girls," in which Knight imagines confronting a friend who's gotten so wrapped up in her own pious religious pronouncements ("All good girls go to heaven") that she doesn't realize she's become a judgmental hypocrite. The song again takes on a challenging topic with an airy melody, providing the perfect juxtaposition of sound and subject. The one time Knight lets her deep sense of frustration seep into her vocal delivery comes at just the right moment, too, as she sings: "And if it's true I'm going to hell for my ways / I'll save her a seat by the fire."

As a footnote here, my acquaintance with Knight 's music came completely by chance. While wandering through Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco earlier this summer with my family, I came across her in the courtyard with her guitarist and bass player, playing a mix of originals and covers for a small but appreciative crowd of passers-by. After three knockout songs and a plea from my daughter, I became the proud owner of this album.

It's the best impulse buy I've made all year. There's a rare and fearless honesty burning through the core of Knight's often compelling songs. Earnest, playful, frank, vulnerable, smartly arranged and thoroughly confident, Future Perfect sounds from here like one of the great singer-songwriter debuts of the '90s.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 1999 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of WobyMusik Records, and is used for informational purposes only.