1 800 222 6872

Julie Christensen: Something Familiar

Album Notes

Julie Christensen has come a long way from her days with Divine Horseman, a doomy, spooky early cowpunk band that she co-fronted with the Flesh Eaters Chris D. Most folks know Christensen as one of Leonard Cohen's longtime backing vocalists. But few, so very few, know her as an enthralling song stylist who can take virtually any material and make it her own. Something Familiar is a collection of standards, but not in the usual sense. Growing up in the 1960s and '70s and coming of age in the '80s, Christensen hasn't merely taken into herself the music of those eras but has also learned the importance of recognizing the nuances and ambiguous areas of expression in the popular song styles of the 20th century, and in doing so has become a tremendous stylist. She holds within the grain of her voice elegance, grace, sass, sensuality, and spit. As this set opens with Jimmy Webb's "Just Like Marilyn," Christensen and her accompanists -- who include J.B. White, Kenny Wollesen, and Greg Leisz -- take the song as a modern lament, and in spaces let the grit in the Webb (a native Oklahoman) original slip through as naturally as the red dirt adorns the land. For the most part its swirling beauty is held in tension, which makes the song work so well as something new. "Never Will I Marry," by Frank Loesser works a little less so, simply because Christensen slips just a bit rhythmically. It's all good in "But Beautiful," though. She not only paces the tune beautifully, but brings out its smoky graciousness and sultry contemplation. One of the tremendous surprises here is her reading of Charles Mingus' "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue." Led by Karen Hammack's gorgeous piano playing, and the subtle, in-the-pocket bassline of Mary Ann McSweeney, she finds the bluesy swing bump right away and lets her voice swoop and swoon with just enough of an erotic acknowledgement -- like the jazz singer on the bandstand who can see it all and sings to egg on the gentlemen toward the unattainable lady sitting alone at table four -- to bring the imperceptible hip twitch out of the tune. Christensen also covers tunes by Oliver Nelson ("Stolen Moments"), Charlie Parker ("Billie's Bounce"), and others, but just before the end of the set she brings out one of her own, and it's a stunner. "Hard to Love," features Christensen with Hammack, Leisz, Wollesen and bassist Don Falzone in a ballad of unbearable amorous tension and the heartbreak of the realization that it's all gone: "We had a great love/It doesn't mean it's a good love/So am I telling this to you/Or am I talking to myself/When I won't have to try to love you anymore/Why should you be so hard to love..." The pain in the grain of her voice and the confusion of her epiphany fight for dominance in her lyric. Her singing is the poetry, and her lyrics the frame she hangs it on. Something Familiar is not one of those records we have dozens of in 2006, where the female singer tries her hand at the classics. Christensen doesn't play with these songs. She works them, and in the process stretches herself. She falters once in a blue moon, but only for a second at a time, and she never loses the song. This recording, being issued on the independent Household Ink label (try looking for it at the label's website), but it is well worth seeking out because it is an encounter with popular song unlike any other, which is as high a compliment as can be paid to this gifted vocalist. ~ Thom Jurek


There are currently no reviews, be the first one!
Login or Create an Account to write a review