[a.k.a. #1 of However Many I Care to List, in No Particular Order: Albums That I Have Listened To Both Intermittently And Incessantly, That I Imagine I Will Continue To Listen To Periodically For The Remainder Of My Life, Which I Consider To Be The Seminal Works Of (Or Most Accessible Entry Points To) Musical Artists Whom I Believe Have Been Woefully Underrated And Criminally Underrepresented In The Modern Music Canon At Large, And Which Also At Some Point While Playing I Have Very Likely Been Asked To Turn Down or Turn Off]
As luck would have it, the first album I want to list is available NOWHERE online to stream, and doesn’t seem to be readily available for purchase on CD either (I have a suspicion this will not be the last time this happens before I’m done listing albums). So, if you want to hear it, your best bet is to DM me.
Pooka were Sharon Lewis and Natasha Lea Jones. Formed in 1992 while both were attending university in Nottingham, England, they rose quickly to a moderate level of fame after bursting into numerous record company offices with their guitars and demanding to perform live for whomever would listen, a bold strategy that landed them a deal with Elektra. Though a couple decades’ worth of “girls with guitars” have come after them, there remains much unique about Pooka and their pocket-sized discography (four full length albums and one lone EP, all of which are well worth acquiring, despite the difficulty now inherent in doing so).
Their self-titled debut (their only work available to stream on Spotify, and thus the album embedded above) is pure and spare, acoustic folk with copious detours into unexpected territory, finger-plucked to perfection, graced here and there with tasteful contributions from guest instrumentalists on organ or saxophone, but mostly remaining a showcase for the pair’s direct, honest songcraft and closely harmonized vocals. There’s a sense of childlike abandon throughout, the feeling of rolling repeatedly down a grass-covered hill on a sunny day, then finding your way home as it gets dark.
Spinning is more elaborately produced than its predecessor, showing off even more sides of the duo. “Mean Girl” starts things off with a snarling shuffle, followed by a trio of tracks (“Higher,” “God Sir,” “Shine”) that unabashedly celebrate the joys to be found in the simple pleasures of life.
Then, the seemingly most celebratory song, complete with horn section: “Lubrication,” which despite also including the word “Vaseline” in its lyrics, is more about how getting a little drunk tends to make it easier to be social. “Rubber Arms” is both a meditation on and exorcism of loneliness, lyrically tweaked, as many of their compositions are, with a healthy dash of absurdist humor (which the music video compounds by an order of magnitude).
The next three tracks (“Sweet Butterfly,” “She Is a Rainbow,” “The Insect”) are a schizophrenic mirror held up to the more optimistic trio heard earlier on. “The Insect” in particular seems like an encapsulation of the full gamut of sounds featured on the rest of the record.
Then we hit the awesome title track, which sounds like nothing less than the languorous lamentation of numerous nymphs caught in the deluge from Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song.” The remainder of the disc is almost a literal meditation, the gentle “This River” leading into 13 minutes or so of nothing but the sound of “Ocean” waves, clearing the way for the almost-as-quiet hidden track closer “Love Song.”
Fans of Kristin Hersh’s solo work should easily appreciate, but Pooka, like its mythical namesake, is for the most part an entirely different animal. They would return to more delicate acoustic textures on their third disc, Fools Give Birth to Angels (showcasing arrangements often verging on orchestral, having invited skilled string and horn sections to play along), then take a complete left turn for their final album, a collaboration with Brian Duffy, the atypically electronic Shift, which, in addition to a host of new material (that beat Sylvan Esso to the punch by a decade and a half), features rearranged versions of two tracks from the prior collection.
Since the dissolution of their decade-long musical partnership, Sharon Lewis and Natasha Lea Jones have continued to perform as solo artists (primarily in European venues, but I did catch Sharon playing in NYC once with Rose Polenzani), and released two albums each under their own names.