Recently, I was watching an Amoeba Records “What's In My Bag?” video segment when guest shopper Fred Armisen (Trenchmouth) talked up an album by Petra Haden called Petra Goes To The Movies. “She does a cappella albums,” he said. Amoeba followed Fred’s statement with about 15 seconds of the album’s version of the “Superman Theme.” After hearing the clip, I immediately knew that Petra Goes To The Movies was an album I had to check out.
Petra Haden first earned acclaim two decades ago as a member of that dog., a quirky Los Angeles-based Alternapop band that fizzled out well before their time shortly after the release of 1997’s underrated Retreat From The Sun. While my fandom of that dog. has remained strong over the years, I confess that I failed to keep track of Petra’s activities (including her 2005 a cappella rendition of The Who Sell Out) in the years following the band’s breakup.
Listening to the (mostly) a cappella Petra Goes To The Movies for the first time, I instantly realized that I had neglected to pay attention to an artist who has been up to something utterly extraordinary. And this album has been out since January? What kind of self-respecting music geek am I? Don’t I know anything about what’s going on? How did something this great miss my radar for so many months?
Petra’s interpretations of “God’s Lonely Man” from Taxi Driver and the main title from Psycho deserve to be heard right now rather than read about, while her take on the “Superman Theme” is downright epic. However, the album’s greatest moment is also its softest: Accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell, Petra turns the Adult Contemporary fluff of Tootsie’s “It Might Be You” into a sweet, understated work of beauty. Petra also dresses up as the film’s iconic Dorothy Michaels in Petra Goes To The Movies’ packaging, which also features her costumed as characters from Taxi Driver, Rebel Without A Cause and some of the others films she honors on the disc.
It would be mistake to categorize Petra Goes To The Movies as an album of cheeky novelty tunes best used as party background music. This is not the product of someone crafting an elaborate goof in a recording studio; this is an album created by someone with the talent, craft and care needed to elevate this album from a hokey homage to a true musical treasure.
Petra Goes To The Movies is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years, and I can’t wait to dive into the rest of Petra’s post-that dog. work. You can bet I’ll be paying close attention to what she comes up with from here on out.
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