Album Review: Juliana Hatfield – Peace and Love

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Whether with her original band, the Blake Babies, or her mid-’90s trio, the Juliana Hatfield Three, Juliana Hatfield has made a career of crafting intimate, jangly pop. Her 10th album continues that tradition. Clocking in at 40 minutes, Peace and Love is a deceptively breezy blend of acoustic guitar pop and the singer-songwriter’s plaintive vocals. Despite the earnest title and often sunny musical arrangements, the album – which Hatfield recorded and produced herself – has a feeling of melancholy that becomes more seductive on each new listen. The album also benefits from the fact that the singer-songwriter played every instrument herself, ably bringing to life her unadorned, bedroom-intimate arrangements.

Beginning with its title track, the 12-song collection alternately reveres the highs and laments the lows of romantic relationships. “You sang me into my dreams/so I forgave you everything,” Hatfield sings on the album’s titular song. The song, propelled by acoustic guitar, offers a wistful, intimate opening to the album.

Later, she sings over a sprightly piano line, “Why can’t we love each other,” later adding, “we’re both pretty damaged, fragile and afraid.” One of the album’s few upbeat tracks, this song captures the tentative hope at the beginning of a relationship.

Hatfield is again full of questions on “What is Wrong?” “Can’t you find a reason/to keep believing,” she asks, singing her plea over a decidedly twangy guitar line.

Though the album has a confessional feel, the songs are not merely diary entries set to music. On “Butterflies”, Hatfield combines delicate strumming with angelic harmonies as she intones, “I’m trying to get through this night without any help.” Whether said help is from a lover or someone (something?) else, we’re only left to guess.

“The End of the War” is one of Peace’s finest moments. The two-and-half minute track combines insistent strumming and angelic harmonies, and highlights the album’s exceptional flow. Songs weave in and out of each other seamlessly, but each maintains a distinct identity.

As the album hits its midpoint, the reflective instrumental “Unsung” gives the listener a breather from all the romantic sturm und drang. Later, “Evan” plays like a letter full of yearning written to a lost friend or lover (“they keep telling me you’re a casualty/but that’s just the story they heard”).

Elsewhere on the album, Hatfield diverts slightly from her intimate folk sound, channeling country influences (“Faith in Our Friends”) and quirky pop on the upbeat “Let’s Go Home”. On the latter song, Hatfield recalls all she did to win over a lover (“I made the bed for you/I filled the fridge with food”).

Peace and Love closes with the slow-burning harmonica of “Dear Anonymous”. By this point, it almost sounds as if Hatfield is singing directly into your ear. Hatfield has crafted an alluring collection of songs that pierce the soul with their intimacy.

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