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Jonatha Brooke Adjusts Her Concerts To COVID Realities

Master classes in songwriting and online “Kitchen COVID” concerts: when the going gets tough, folk-pop maven and playwright Jonatha Brooke gets improvisational. The enforced touring hiatus brought on by COVID-19 is hardly her first career obstacle: as part of the harmony-rich duo The Story (with college buddy Jennifer Kimball), Brooke garnered rave reviews and major label contracts - only to be dropped a few years later in a 1990s recording industry purge.  Brooke shrugged, created Bad Dog Records, and got on with releasing another nine albums.      

“Fire” is the first single from her 2019 EP, Imposter: “‘Fire’ is about that powerful confidence you earn heading into your fifties. You’re old enough, accomplished enough to speak your mind without worrying what people think, but you’re still playful enough and ‘hot’ enough to have some fun. It’s about telling the truth, standing up for yourself loud and clear, and taking your place at the ‘head of the table.’”     

About Imposter: “The songs are adventurous and tell stories, with arrangements that are crazier and more cinematic than I’ve ever done before. Adi Yeshaya, she did these gorgeous, whimsical things for horns and strings. It was like Sgt. Pepper came to visit my recording session. He brought a whole new palette to these songs. I’d been working on them for a couple of years, writing a bit outside of my own dumb experiences and writing more about characters."       

Brooke has written for numerous television shows, composing and performing the theme song for Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. She’s also co-written with Katy Perry ("Choose Your Battles"), as well as songs for four Disney films. In 2014, she debuted her one-woman musical, My Mother Has Four Noses, in New York. The autobiographical show (Brooke cared for her mother after the onset of dementia), ran for three months and was a critics’ pick in the New York Times. She's since performed it in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, and has co-written Switched with playwright Geoffrey Nauffts.       

“The thing I love about this new avenue, it’s collaborative,” Brooke said. “You’re constantly brainstorming with people who are smarter than you. That makes me less precious about writing for myself. I feel braver now. You don’t send unmastered, unmixed songs to anyone in the record business, [but] in theater, I’m sending demos I sing in my phone to the actors to learn the songs. This world is constantly in flux. You’re the clay.” 

(Broadcast: Musician's Spotlight,  6/9/20 and 1/5/21. Listen on the radio Tuesdays, 7 p.m., or via podcast.)

John Floridis, the host and producer of Musician's Spotlight, has been with Montana Public Radio since 1997. He has interviewed over 200 musicians during that time. He is also an independent recording and performing artist in his own right and a former registered music therapist.
Beth Anne Austein has been spinning tunes on the air (The Folk Show, Dancing With Tradition, Freeforms), as well as recording, editing and mixing audio for Montana Public Radio and Montana PBS, since the Clinton Administration. She’s jockeyed faders or "fixed it in post” for The Plant Detective; Listeners Bookstall; Fieldnotes; Musicians Spotlight; The Write Question; Storycorps; Selected Shorts; Bill Raoul’s music series; orchestral and chamber concerts; lecture series; news interviews; and outside producers’ programs about topics ranging from philosophy to ticks.
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