The experience of playing Kendall Payne’s Jordan’s Sister is like listening to a really great cover band. It is as if Payne had been hanging around the recording studio when Alanis Morissette, Shawn Colvin, Traci Bonham, and Sarah McLachlan were making decisions about which songs to include on their latest albums. After each left, Payne scrambled around on the cutting room floor for the rejects and recorded them herself. The result is an album that could easily be mistaken for a collection of recordings by the most influential women musicians of the late ‘90s, so eerily accurate are Payne’s imitations.
Despite being so heavily derivative, this album makes for some good listening. Payne’s voice is well-suited for homage to Morissette and the Lilith Fair crowd, capturing the throaty anger, quiet earnestness, and playful sarcasm of her musical progenitors. “It’s Not the Time” is a rocking tune that works its way into one’s head, showing Payne to be more entertaining and powerful when she lets loose with a full band. However, the album’s final song is an exception to this rule. Falling on the other end of Payne’s spectrum, the album ends with a tenderly intense story of Brenda Jean, her father’s “peanut butter queen,” who is left “Fatherless at 14.”
Payne’s lyrics encompass the personal-is-political social conscience of her peers while maintaining a playful poeticism that helps cut the sticky-sweetness of the party line. On “Supermodels,” accompanied by an occasionally raging electric guitar, she introduces her hatred of supermodels by describing a summer fashion show where “Barbie’s body is melting down, on her face a big fat frown because Mr. Cellulite just moved into town.” The album begins by asking, “Hey, Alice, are you completely satisfied with Wonderland and all its wonders? ‘Cause if you’re not, you know, I heard that they’re handing out a moneyback guarantee at the door”—a whimsical spin on the tortured pain that so frequently works its way into the music of female singer-songwriters.
Payne has learned Lilith’s lessons well. Cheaper than buying one album by each of the women whose styles have worked their ways into Payne’s music, Jordan’s Sister is a strong—though disconcertingly familiar—album. Sometimes, perhaps, the song of the mockingbird is as sweet as the song of the sparrow.