The great leap forward: Julie Christensen takes us to Where the Fireworks Are

 ~ By BRETT LEIGH DICKS ~ For Julie Christensen, music is all about being heard. No matter if her voice is soaring passionately in complement to Leonard Cohen’s laconic rasp or brazenly recounting her disillusionment with the current state of the world on her latest album, Christensen’s musical desires all stem from a steadfast desire to communicate. It has been that way for as long as she can remember. It is that simple objective that continues to fuel and propel the various undertakings the Ojai-based singer-songwriter so fervently embraces. Over the last few years, she has been touring the world with the likes of Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Beth Orton as part of Hal Willner’s Leonard Cohen tribute concerts; she also features prominently in Lian Lunsen’s Cohen documentary I’m Your Man. Last year, Christensen released a recording where she sauntered her way through a collection of old standards, and she is about to follow that up with Where the Fireworks Are, an album of her own evocative compositions. “As an artist, I don’t think you ever lose the desire to get heard,” Christensen says. “That’s really what gave rise to this new album, and it’s what music has always been about for me. It doesn’t matter whether I was dueting with Leonard Cohen on ‘Joan of Arc’ while touring the world or singing ‘Wishing on a Star’ in an a cappella group for people who were waiting in line to visit the Queen Mary; for me, it all comes from the same place. It’s all music. It’s all about communicating. And it’s all part of the same incredible journey.” (continued—please turn page over) (The Great Leap Forward: Julie Christensen Takes us to Where the Fireworks Are cont.) The starting point for the most recent leg of that journey could not have been any more exacting. Christensen has long maintained a fertile and active social conscience, so much so that she decided to delve headlong into voter registration for the 2004 federal election. The reality of the outcome seemingly became too much of a burden for her to bear. Across the recent past, her songwriting had not been as prolific as she had wanted. But the prospect of more of the political same, and its accompanying social ramifications, soon provided the spark that would ultimately ignite a compositional firestorm. “In the buildup to the last elections, I felt really strongly that the current administration shouldn’t be allowed to stay and do another four years worth of damage,” Christensen says. “Then the elections went the way they did, and all these songs just came out. I really hadn’t written all that much for a while. Normally I have to be depressed or have bad luck in love before the urge to express myself will override everything else. The last time I had been this creative was when I was dumped. And that’s how the election made me feel: I felt like a jilted lover.” Her political rejection quickly led to musical salvation. Christensen turned to the Santa Barbara-based Headless Household collective to help guide her vision. Recorded in Tom Lackner’s mountainside studio, the album radiates in poignancy, yet shimmers in sublime beauty. From the heart-wrenching title track, which serves up an aching does of harsh reality, to the cascading piano that drives the plaintive “Something Pretty,” Where the Fireworks Are is a collection of songs spanning the emotional spectrum. It provides an evocative musical chariot for Christensen to weave her vocal magic. In being swept along by Christensen’s current musical voyage, one could be forgiven for overlooking some of her former musical credits. She has fronted infectious swamp rockers Divine Horsemen; sung with musicians as diverse as Iggy Pop, Steve Wynn, Melissa Manchester, k.d. lang and Van Dyke Parks; and, of course, performed as a vocalist with Leonard Cohen on his last two world tours. So when she was engulfed by the urge to express herself in song again, she turned to the latter for some initial support and guidance. “One of the first songs that came was the one that eventually became the title track,” Christensen recalls. “I started writing it a few years back around the time of Independence Day. 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. But when I told him the opening line, which goes ‘Between my thighs/Is all my country,’ he responded, ‘I can’t help you there, darling. You got yourself into this one, so you’re on your own.’ But, in the end, that one just propelled itself forward.”” - Brett Leigh-Dicks

VC Reporter

IN CONCERT: Fireworks in April - Local vocalist Julie Christensen drops another genre-bending album Julie Christensen has performed with a healthy list of notable musician. On Monday at SOhO, she releases her latest album, "Where the Fireworks Are." COURTESY PHOTO April 20, 2007 10:20 AM At age 10, Julie Christensen decided music was going to be her life. Since then, she has plumbed the depths of virtually every genre of American song. (My music) is sort of an amalgam of rock, blues, funk, country, folk and jazz, with an overall seasoning of Americana-rock influence á la Aaron Copeland," she said. On Monday, Christensen will be defying genre classification at SOhO. She has collaborated with notable artists, including Leonard Cohen (with whom she has toured and recorded for years), Lou Reed, Van Dyke Parks, k.d. lang, Todd Rundgren and Robben Ford. Her past three albums, "Love is Driving" (1997), "Soul Driver" (2000) and "Something Familiar" (2006), have received critical praise. Now, with the upcoming release of "Where the Fireworks Are," she is making her most personal statement thus far. This stuff is what I was listening to in college." she said. "This recording impelled itself to be made. I grew up with Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Buffalo Springfield and Laura Nyro. Their songs were poetry and had emotional weight and the wild energy of rock." Christensen's appearance at SOhO will be part of a release party for the album. I started writing 'Where the Fireworks Are' in 2004," she said. "It's a clear statement of how I see myself and my relationship to the world in which we live at this point in my life. It's a reaction to what we're going through as a country. I wanted to say how I really feel about this news, not what we should do about it, because, at the point I'm writing these songs, as a poet, it's not my business." Christensen was born in Iowa City, Iowa, started vocal lessons at 11, and sang in a western-swing/country-rock group. She said, "I didn't take music in college because I was afraid they'd ruin it for me by institutionalizing it." She encountered jazz in her early 20s and moved to Austin, Texas, in 1977, where she played mostly in blues and jazz clubs. People used to tell me that I sang jazz with a country accent," she said. Stone Cupid, Christensen's back-up band, consists of pianist Karen Hammack, guitarist and News-Press correspondent Joe Woodard, drummer Tom Lackner and bassist Steve Nelson. As for the songs on "Where the Fireworks Are," Christensen said that "Well Enuf," while seemingly about a domestic argument, is meant to be scaled up to the dimension of the world today. "Have a Pretty Dream," is a pro-peace lullaby, while "The Meteor" is what it's like to live in her brain. "Woodstock" is a tribute to an event that neither Christensen nor Joni Mitchell, who wrote the song, were able to attend, and "One More Song" expresses her hope that music is in service to love.” - Stanley Naftaly

Santa Barbara News-Press

Sister of Mercy By Brett Leigh Dicks, October 12, 2006 Julie Christensen’s Impassioned Musical Crusade by Brett Leigh Dicks In the studio recording Julie Christensen’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 Christensen’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 “Finger on the Trigger,” and its ringing guitar lines are as inflicting as its lyrical barbs. While Lackner dialed back the recording’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 Willner’s Cohen tribute concerts. She also has a role in I’m Your Man, filmmaker Lian Lunsen’s recent cinematic exploration of Cohen and his music. As fate would have it, Cohen-related endeavors loom large in the coming week’s artistic calendar. UCSB Arts & Lectures presents an encore screening of I’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 Christensen’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. “As an artist, I don’t think you ever lose the desire to get heard,” offered Christensen in a whisper from her perch in the studio. “That’s really what gave rise to Something Familiar and it’s what music has always been about for me. It doesn’t matter whether I was touring the world and dueting with Leonard Cohen on ‘Joan of Arc’ or singing ‘Swinging on a Star’ in an a capella group. For me it all comes from the same place. It’s all about the music. It’s all about communicating. And it’s all been part of the same incredible journey.” But Christensen’s current musical voyage isn’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 Cohen’s last two world tours, she was the perfect choice for Hal Willner’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. “I started writing this recording around the time of the last election,” explained Christensen, “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 ‘Between my thighs, is all my country,’ to which he responded, ‘I can’t help you there, darling. You got yourself into this one. You’re on your own.’” But not all was fun and games. “Then the election happened and all these songs just came out,” Christensen said. “The last time I had been that creative was when I was dumped, and that’s how the election made me feel. I really felt like a jilted lover.” 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.” - Brett Leigh-Dicks

Santa Barbara Independent

Beauty/Noise L.A. Discgrace 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. She’s got an engraver’s way of etching/buffing a lyric, and as Josef Woodard’s guitar screwdrivered around the harmonic edges at B.B. King’s last month, she had us reopening a lot of cold cases.” - Greg Burk


MUSIC REVIEW: Walls of Sound and Vision JOSEF WOODARD, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT November 4, 2006 8:32 AM 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, &quot ;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. e-mail: 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. ” - Josef Woodard

Santa Barbara News Press