Monday, March 31, 2008

A Brokeheart Pro - "The Kitten Next Door" (Kitten Next Door Records 2007)

It’s starting to seem de rigeur for me to begin these reviews with a boring, self-indulgent bit of personal history. Ask around the bars I used to frequent if you want an idea of how much I like to talk about myself. Well, fuck it. There is a point to this that will tie in to the actual record review. Feel free to skip down a few paragraphs.

As a kid I was lazy as shit. I hated doing anything that smacked of work. Even the dangling carrot of cash recompense was rarely enough for my long-suffering father to get me to mow the lawn. I despised playing sports. When I announced to my parents at the age of 14 that I wanted to learn to play guitar I was regarded with the level of skepticism you would expect considering I had taken interest in almost nothing but reading books my entire life. Still, I convinced my dad to let me buy a beat up Yamaha acoustic at a pawn shop with my birthday money and to get me some lessons.

It never entered my mind that I would play in a band. I wanted to play guitar because I wanted to be like Randy Rhoads. I was terrible at math and music theory was an utter mystery to me. Through grudging practice of such gems as the rhythm guitar part of “Tequila Sunrise” I learned time signatures, open chords and transitions. I then graduated to barre chords. It wasn’t long after that that I heard The Ramones for the first time. I quit wanting to be like Randy Rhoads and started wanting to be like Johnny Ramone. Trying to be like Randy Rhoads was too much like work.

After hitting some Houston punk shows it suddenly dawned on me that I could be in a punk band. While I deeply loved rock ‘n’ roll and was already well on my way to music geekdom, this had nothing to do with it. These guys in bands, even if they were socially inept and/or anti-social, as was I, got attention. Especially from girls. While I was under the legal age these guys also got free beer and they weren’t much older, if not younger, than me. Sad as it may seem, there’s my motivation for becoming a working musician.

I tell this story to use as a counter-point to the musical career of Jeannette Kantzalis, the woman, and for that matter only person, behind The Kitten Next Door, released under the name A Brokeheart Pro. She neither was nor is lazy at all and no part of her motivation is suspect.

I don’t know how I missed every aspect of this woman’s career until now. Beginning recording her own songs by age 11, she scored a job as a songwriter for publishing company Peer/Southern by age 18 and landed a record contract with A&M Records by 19, releasing the record Pink Mischief as Jeannette Katt. Mere months after a nasty split with A&M she resurfaced as Jeannette Kantzalis fronting garage pop outfit The Chubbies, a decade long project that released a couple of sides on Sympathy for the Record Industry (which is really when I should have tuned in – just goes to show that even though drunken living and chain smoking go hand in hand with living and breathing rock ‘n’ roll you still miss things).

Jeannette is back, this time on her own as A Brokeheart Pro. Disregarding for a moment the songs themselves it is stupefyingly impressive how good The Kitten Next Door sounds when one considers she produced the record and played every instrument on it. Jeannette has no formal training in any of this – a testament to how far dedication, passion, and experience can take you. Lou Barlow, eat your heart out (those of you that know me know I’d never say that lightly).

Album opener “Dark Red and Loud” grabs you immediately – a mid-tempo song with excellent use of sonic space between the instrumentation and vocals. A sparse Ry Cooder-ish slide guitar complements Jeannette’s voice – the best aspects of Kate Bush by turns with the most soulful aspects of Alison Limerick. Its tone is evocative of some lost desert highway, a feeling well reflected in the desperate, self-destructive love story of the lyric.

Don’t get lulled in or settle on any expectations, though. Track two, “You Don’t Know”, blasts out at you like The Runaways might have sounded if they’d been from Tucson. As surreal as that may seem, it works really well and you begin to get a sense of the range of influences that Jeannette can bring to bear. There’s the bouncy vamp of the title track, the sultry “Bleed On” with a vocal that would do Debbie Harry proud, and the beautiful broken-hearted ballad “Pink Mischief”, the strongest track on the record.

She throws in a couple of covers for good measure. Ryan Adams “Hard Way to Fall” (Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Jacksonville City Lights, Lost Highway 2005), which doesn’t work for me. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion this has more to do with me than Jeanette’s interpretation. My encounters with a pre-fame Ryan Adams have left me feeling his lyrics are disingenuous at best and likely soured me on him forever. You don’t need to tell me I’m the last person on earth who feels this way. Much more to my liking is The Killers “Bling (Confessions of a King)” (Sam’s Town, Island 2006), probably because hey, I love The Killers, and Jeannette’s interpretation is such a unique take on the song.

There’s more on this record to be impressed by (Jeannette’s use of her voice as a background melody instrument in several places is stunning), but I don’t want to give it all away. It would be a crime to diminish the impact this record will have on you at first listen more than I already have.

You folks need to pick this one up. Let’s leave it at that.

You can pick up The Kitten Next Door at and check out her MySpace at

3.5 out of 4 broken hearts

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