Jill Stein, Presidential Candidate, Made Terrible Music in the ’90s
If you haven't heard of Jill Stein yet, you likely will between now and November: Stein is the Green Party's presidential candidate, currently presenting herself as a third option for those dissatisfied with the two-party system. When she ran for President the first time in 2012 she failed to garner more than 0.36% of the popular vote; she's also spectacularly lost elections to be Massachusetts' State Representative, the MA Secretary of State, and Governor of Massachusetts (twice, actually, in 2002 and 2010). But back in the '90s, she elected HERSELF as one half of a starry-eyed folk rock duo that would've made Lilith Fair's booking team blush with secondhand embarrassment.
As Somebody's Sister, Stein and bandmate Ken Selcer made four albums full of songs that often espouse the left-leaning (and above all, vague) political ideals reflected in her (more specific, though questionably-actionable) platform. The songs on their self-titled 1996 record veer between inoffensive strummy-guitar ditties like "Star Song," to anti-materialism rally "Thing Junky" ("Thing junky, sellin' the forest/thing junky, sellin' the sky / just a piece of nature's bounty / for the things I love to buy") to uniquely Caucasian, patchouli-and-a-quilted-vest 'funkiness', as on opening track "Sing a Little Song."
Somebody's Sister expanded to a quartet on the Green Sky EP, on which bongos and conga drums abound (Stein's Wikipedia page, which originally alerted me to the existence Somebody's Sister, claims that Stein plays the conga and djembe drums which is exceedingly easy to imagine). Jill Stein's vocals shoot for "Joan Baez" across the group's releases, achieving a thin if reasonable facsimile, and none more than on Green Sky. Green Sky is the party record, eschewing politics on the mildly tropical "Coral Bay" ("islanders daaaance / when they get the chaaance"), which ends with heavy wind chimes and some light scatting from Stein. Shut your eyes and travel back to 1997 as you listen, transporting yourself to perhaps a suburban Massachusetts oyster festival, and gently sway along to the breezy sounds of local talent Somebody's Sister performing on the town green. Don't sway too hard! You might slosh your plastic cup of Chardonnay.
The group boldly stared down the unknowns of a new century with 1999's Circuits to the Sun, their most ambitious and worst release to date. On "Dancin' Wild" — another "funky" number — Stein experiments with a breathy Bob Dylan delivery on the verses (Baez and Dylan's '60s period clearly had monumental impact on Stein and Selcer). On "American Dream," Somebody's Sister get their hands on a drum machine and use it to back a platitude-packed protest song.
"Time's are changin' / It ain't no joke / Hey revolution, take back your vote," Stein sang, less than a year before 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader would receive less than 3% of the vote. Whether votes for Nader shaved Al Gore's percentage enough to cost him the election against George W. Bush is highly debatable at best (and people are still debating it in 2016). And that election occurred in the days before 9/11, before "Operation Iraqi Freedom," before we had the most volatile and high-stakes presidential election in living memory.
Despite this shift, Stein still seems to be singing the same song, resting comfortably in untested ideals, seemingly unmoored from and unbothered by what might befall certain sections of the population should Trump become Commander in Chief. But at least she's no longer backed by bongos.
You can stream three of Stein's albums over at Bandcamp, if you want.