Press for Fireworks, Something Familiar
Sister of MercyBy Brett Leigh Dicks, October 12, 2006
Julie ChristensenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Impassioned Musical Crusade
by Brett Leigh DicksIn the studio recording Julie ChristensenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new album, producer Tom Lackner raised his arms in exhilaration and guitarist Joe Woodard smiled coyly from a resting place against the studio wall. For the past few hours, the pair had been trading instrumental scrutiny on ChristensenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s latest recording, the gestation of which the Headless Household colleagues are currently overseeing. The song in question was a rousing country-tinged composition called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Finger on the Trigger,Ã¢â‚¬Â and its ringing guitar lines are as inflicting as its lyrical barbs. While Lackner dialed back the recordingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vocal track, Christensen swiveled around and refocused her attention on the music. In an instant, she was bellowing out her impassioned vocals across the latest edit.
For these three musicians, this recording has been a labor of love. At the core of the project resides an unwavering belief in its purpose, though because of other commitments, the trio has been getting together between other undertakings. Lackner squeezes sessions in his studio between other recording commitments. Woodard, when not working on his own music, is committed to presenting noteworthy artist endeavors here in town. And Christensen, a long-serving vocal colleague of Leonard Cohen, is currently touring with Hal WillnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Cohen tribute concerts. She also has a role in IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m Your Man, filmmaker Lian LunsenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recent cinematic exploration of Cohen and his music.
As fate would have it, Cohen-related endeavors loom large in the coming weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s artistic calendar. UCSB Arts & Lectures presents an encore screening of IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m Your Man at Campbell Hall on the evening of Wednesday, October 18, and Julie Christensen will be taking the stage at SOhO on Monday, October 16 to celebrate the release of her new album, Something Familiar. And though Something Familiar and the unreleased album in the works will both unleash ChristensenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vocal prowess, the performances are very distinct. Something Familiar contains tunes from the songbooks of Jimmy Webb, Charlie Parker, and Frank Loesser, while the untitled record-in-progress is all originals.
Just like these magical covers, their conveyor also yearns for an audience. Ã¢â‚¬Å“As an artist, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think you ever lose the desire to get heard,Ã¢â‚¬Â offered Christensen in a whisper from her perch in the studio. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really what gave rise to Something Familiar and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what music has always been about for me. It doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter whether I was touring the world and dueting with Leonard Cohen on Ã¢â‚¬ËœJoan of ArcÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or singing Ã¢â‚¬ËœSwinging on a StarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ in an a capella group. For me it all comes from the same place. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all about the music. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all about communicating. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all been part of the same incredible journey.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But ChristensenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s current musical voyage isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t her first notable undertaking. She has fronted the infectious swamp rockers Divine Horsemen, a band that blazed its way out of the L.A. music scene forged by the likes of X. She has sung with musicians as diverse as Iggy Pop, Steve Wynn, Melissa Manchester, k.d. lang, and Van Dyke Parks. And, having performed as a vocalist on Leonard CohenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s last two world tours, she was the perfect choice for Hal WillnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s series of Cohen tributes, performing alongside the likes of Nick Cave, Teddy Thompson, and Beth Orton.
While these outside projects afford Christensen the chance to display her prowess as a vocalist, her talent shines brightest on her own recorded endeavors, about which she has quite a sense of humor. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I started writing this recording around the time of the last election,Ã¢â‚¬Â explained Christensen, Ã¢â‚¬Å“and there was one song that I asked Leonard Cohen to help me write because he was the only person I knew who could give it the weight that it deserved. I told him the opening line, which is Ã¢â‚¬ËœBetween my thighs, is all my country,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ to which he responded, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help you there, darling. You got yourself into this one. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re on your own.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â
But not all was fun and games. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then the election happened and all these songs just came out,Ã¢â‚¬Â Christensen said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The last time I had been that creative was when I was dumped, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how the election made me feel. I really felt like a jilted lover.Ã¢â‚¬Â It may have been a heartbreak for Christensen, but I think she would agree that it was well worth the effort, as the album is truly a beauty.
Local (and universal) jazz CDs
By Greg Burk
Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - 11:58 am
I know Smogtowners are supposed to be dumfuqs, so all these sharp abstractionist discs must be by Manhattanites pretending to be from L.A., right? Right?...
Julie Christensen, Something Familiar (Household Ink). Standards of several eras, from swing to Jimmy Webb, sound right-now when Christensen sings them straight through your ribcage. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got an engraverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s way of etching/buffing a lyric, and as Josef WoodardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s guitar screwdrivered around the harmonic edges at B.B. KingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s last month, she had us reopening a lot of cold cases.
Advance notice about Lou Reed's "Songs and Noise" program at Campbell Hall amounted to a cryptic tease.
Nothing shocking there: Throughout his strange 40-year trip through rock history, Reed -- now 64 but in fit and fighting form -- has carefully maintained an element of mystique and surprise.
Still, some old fans of Reed's songbook -- going back to his seminal work with the still-influential Velvet Underground in the late '60s -- might have feared the word "noise," given his controversial avant garde 1976 album "Metal Machine Music."
Would this be another exercise in Reed's sonic abstract expressionist exorcism of the sort that once inspired youngins' like Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth?
Sure enough, when Reed hit the stage, he strapped on his guitar and cranked up the fuzz and wah-wah for some soundscape painting, with the low rumble of his bassists supplying a sternum-bracing wall of sound.
But this too was a tease. The lion's share of his solid, two-hour "Songs and Noise" show at Campbell Hall was about songs, with only short bursts of noise and some tasteful musical caulking.
Reed, who last played in Santa Barbara with his full band at the Arlington in the early '90s, is again experimenting with format in this California tour, which began and was rehearsed in Santa Barbara.
His basic experimental notion at the heart of the tour is a simple matter of stripping away elements of his standard rock 'n' roll band foundation and beefing up the low end with two (count 'em) bassists.
Reed was the lone guitarist (doubling on a Moog synthesizer for two songs), flanked by bassist-around-town Rob Wasserman and Reed's longtime bassist Fernando Saunders, who also supplied some soulful vocals this evening.
Like Ornette Coleman, whose recent groups have featured two -- or more -- bassists, Reed has discovered the secret power of low-end fortification, and, implicitly, the dullness of plural guitars.
At one point, Reed marveled that his stage mates were "going where no bass has gone before" and later added, during a rumbling instrumental section, "my goodness, get the drums out of there and you see what you got." He seemed genuinely happy about the first foray of his new setting.
In this pared-down, drum-free setting, the lyrical savvy of Reed's songs bubbled up closer to the surface. He plucked songs from old and new places, and kept swerving from the profane to the potentially sacred, as in "What is Good" (with its lyric, "life's good, but not fair at all") .
From the Velvet Underground days, we got "Femme Fatale," one of those many songs that gains intrigue through the tense juxtaposition of Reed's brusque vocals and the folk-poppy sweetness of his major seventh chords and wistful pining. In Reed's musical world, the tough and the tender keep jockeying for position, with neither clearly winning.
One of the highlights of the show, interestingly enough, was a move outside the Reed songbook, when he invited Ojai-based singer Julie Christensen onstage for a duet of Leonard Cohen's song "Joan of Arc."
Reed and Christensen -- a longtime backup singer for Cohen -- were well familiar with the song, having just performed it twice in Dublin during a Cohen tribute program. They work wonders together with Reed issuing his gruff sing-spiel against Christensen's purer vocal graces and her magical, reverb-coated wordless wailing (which spurred the crowd into a mid-song applause).
Hearing Reed singing Cohen, you can find points of comparison -- and contrast -- between the two. Like Cohen, Reed tends to write literate, word-playful songs in which lavish and meandering verses are punctuated by simple, hypnotic refrains.
The difference with Reed, compared to the poetically detached Cohen, is that the New Yorker doesn't mind in-your-face subjects, be it details of a messy divorce, a beating in an urban alley (''Rock Minuet") or startling tidbits of sex and violence tossed in with the eloquent verbiage (''Waltzing Matilda").
Among other traits, Reed finds intriguing new routes to self-revelation, as in the narrated piece "The Dream" from his album "Songs for Drella." The piece, accompanied by mesmerizing atmospheric sonics from his Moog Voyager, is a rambling tour of Andy Warhol's brain, told from Warhol's dazed point of view.
In the midst of the piece, Reed/Warhol starts castigating "Lou," as an ingrate who didn't even invite Andy to his wedding, after Warhol essentially launched Reed's career.
It was one of many surreal moments in an evening full of them, in terms of sound, persona and nicely twisted expectations.
Egged back to the stage by the adoring throng, Reed's trio returned to play the bittersweet jewel of a song "Vanishing Act" from his underrated (and now unavailable) 2003 project, "The Raven."
Finishing off with a nod to the future, they played a 2-week-old song, " ;Gravity." It sounded like a dark variation on Mother Goose and could be about aging, the world's compounding woes, or any number of spirit-dampening factors, but set artfully into deceptively lilting lines.
Another underlying message with this new song, part of a hopeful work in progress, is that Lou Reed's muse is still tugging at him after all these years.
DAVID BAZEMORE PHOTO
Related article: 'Every day, it gets more hilarious' All Content Copyright © 2006 Santa Barbara News-Press / Ampersand Publishing, LLC unless otherwise specified.