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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

March 23, 1997|Elysa Gardner

JILL SOBULE

"Happy Town"

Lava/Atlantic

* * *

Don't let Sobule's little-girl voice and cute sense of whimsy fool you. The singer-songwriter, who scored a hit in 1995 with "I Kissed a Girl," a cheeky ode to homoerotic bonding between gal pals, is a sophisticated pop craftswoman. On her new album, Sobule fits smart, accessible melodies into arrangements that deftly incorporate diverse influences and textures, from the '60s-style lounge-pop breeziness of the title track to the subtle jazz and folk nuances coloring moodier tunes such as "Half a Heart" and "Sold My Soul."

Sobule's lyrics are equally substantial, mixing wry humor with tender intelligence. Refreshingly, the singer never stoops to the sort of whining or glib kitsch that too many of her contemporaries indulge in. Whether confronting jealousy on "Bitter" or tackling adolescent angst on the wistful "Underachiever," Sobule (who plays the Troubadour on April 11) avoids sounding like a smart-aleck or a petulant child. Even when she gets down in the romantic doldrums, Sobule maintains her sense of humor--and her dignity. No wonder her girlfriend fell in love with her.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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