Jonatha Brooke has decided that it's time for her to step from out of the darkness.<br CLEAR="NONE"/>

Jonatha Brooke has decided that it's time for her to step from out of the darkness.

It's 9 a.m. on a brisk morning in Minneapolis, and the singer/songwriter is buzzing around her hotel room, thanks partly to a half-consumed cup of coffee. But mostly Brooke is feeding off the natural adrenaline resulting from the activity surrounding her imminent new release, "Steady Pull" -- a recording that reveals a markedly different side to the often introspective artist.

"I didn't want to wallow in the drama and darkness anymore. That would've been too easy, too comfortable," she says, her face brightening with a sly smile. "I wanted to get sexy. I wanted to romp."

And so she did. Produced by Brooke with Bob Clearmountain and Ryan Freeland, "Steady Pull" doesn't abandon the core acoustic sound and thoughtful lyrics that have amassed an ardent cult following. Rather, her latest composing complements her signature style with playful rock strutting and an undeniably seductive soul shuffle.

"Steady Pull," whose 12 tracks were written by Brooke, is a blissful sonic marriage that's best displayed on the standout, single-worthy cuts "How Deep Is Your Love" -- with its rich blend of harmonies and hip-hop-flavored beats -- and the title track, an anthemic stomper that features a smooth guest rhyme by Michael Franti of Spearhead. Added star power is brought to the project by way of former Crowded House lead singer Neil Finn, who harmonizes on the elegantly sensual "New Dress."

"It will be interesting to see how people who've been following my career for a while react to various parts of this album," Brooke says. "It's certainly not predictable, and that's intentional. There's plenty of the 'serious' stuff that some might expect, but there are also some fresh ideas. Ultimately, I think people will grow with me and realize that you can't be sullen all the time. Sometimes, you've gotta get up and dance around -- and take a few risks."

Brooke first earned kudos during the mid-'90s as a member of the folk/rock duo the Story. Her reputation as a tunesmith of poetic proportions heightened when she went solo, issuing two deservedly revered discs on Refuge/MCA. The projects, largely folk/pop in tone, amassed an active cult following.

For "Steady Pull," Brooke has done more than step out on a musical limb. She's also taking on the formidable task of issuing and marketing the project on her own label, Bad Dog Records, which is distributed by Koch International. Though she tested do-it-yourself waters via Bad Dog in 1999 with the concert chronicle "Live," the former Refuge/MCA artist is pulling out the stops with "Steady Pull," striving to work it with the intricate, long-term strategy of a major-label release.

"It's all been very sweet, very exciting every step of the way," she says. "But, at the same time, there's a lot riding on this album."

She's right there is. "Steady Pull" is not merely another Brooke recording. It's her declaration of independence. "There's no way to describe what it's like for an artist to feel like she has to beg an executive at some large label to give up some money to do a video, or a photo shoot... or anything," says the Boston-born Brooke. "It can become a such a demeaning experience. In this scenario, I can just decide what I think is best and then just act on it."

Among the decisions made for "Steady Pull" was a gradual creative process with producers Clearmountain and Freeland (who co-helmed "How Deep Is Your Love"). "We worked in two-week spurts, which was fine," Brooke says. "It allows us to really think about what we were doing and get everything just as we envisioned."

After a while, however, the artist admits, she started to get itchy to put some music out onto the street. "The fans have been knocking down the door, too," she says with a laugh. "The posting board on my Web site [jonathabrooke.com] has been very active with people asking, 'What is taking her so long?'"

Although the music of "Steady Pull" has been ready since the summer of 2000, Brooke says that it was ultimately a good idea to wait until February 2001 to release it. "It gave us plenty of time to do our homework and set up some really fun stuff."

Among the first things in place is Brooke's Web site, where the artist has been frequently posting diary-style entries. Also available on the site is video footage for the clip that will accompany the project's first single, the infectious, guitar-laced "Linger."

"We've been so careful about what we let circulate on the Net," she says, adding that she's nervous about album cuts turning up on Napster. "I'm afraid to even check. I just want to scream, 'Give me a break. I'm not a million-selling artist. This is how I make a living.'"

To make the release something even more special, she's lensed video footage to accompany every song on "Steady Pull," which will be made available on a DVD pressing of the album. That version will also feature a surround-sound mix of the songs, interview footage of Brooke and Clearmountain, and comedic outtakes from studio and video sessions.

Adding to the sales incentive, both the album and DVD are available for pre-order via several E-tailers, as well as on Brooke's own site. Those who pre-order will be offered autographed copies of the album.

A key component of the marketing for "Steady Pull" will be touring. Brooke expects to spend much of the next several months on the road.

"Touring is where I really live," Brooke says. "It's the reward to me -- to hear the songs live in a room, where anything could happen and they go a different place every night. That's what I love about music. It travels on so many levels. Human traveling, well, that takes its toll for sure, but there's still something truly amazing to me about people who are still passionate enough to buy the ticket, get the baby sitter, take the train, whatever ... to hear live music."

And Brooke is particularly excited about unleashing the songs from "Steady Pull" in a live setting. "It's going to be such a blast," she says. "Some of these songs are so sexy and fun to perform. It's going to make for a very different live experience -- for me and the audience.

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