Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CD Album Review- Julie Roberts- Alive

The Background-
Alive is Roberts third album and the first released independently after two critically lauded albums on the Mercury Nashville label. Roberts' self-titled debut record was certified gold, and garnered her a Top 20 hit "Break Down Here," as well as two prestigious Country Music Association (CMA) "Top New Artist" nominations. Men & Mascara opened up at #4 on the Hot Country Album Charts without ever charting a radio single. Five years removed from Men & Mascara, Roberts returns with new music.

The Review-
Julie Roberts is throwback. In a modern country world where Jason Aldean raps and acts eschew steel guitar and fiddle for layers of electric guitar, here sits Roberts as a reminder of all of the best parts of country music from decades past. From the minute she opens her mouth and lets loose with that soulful voice, you instantly get the feel that she was born in the shadow of the classics like Tammy Wynette and Lynn Anderson. Steel guitar and fiddle aren’t to decorate song bridges, they’re part of her soul.

No tracks exemplify this fact more than on the stunning ballad “Carolina from My Soul” or the nostalgic “Yesterday’s Blue.” On “Carolina” Roberts pays tribute to her native South Carolina that is contrasted beautifully with lyrics of a difficult relationship that sucks the light from her eyes. Her home state and upbringing remain the foundation by which she continues to survive through this difficult relationship, the ship that keeps her afloat. The well-documented story of how Julie and her mother escaped a bad situation in her younger years only adds to the autobiographical power to the song. “Yesterday’s Blue,” co-written with One Flew South’s Chris Roberts, is even a more intentional slice of nostalgia. She channels her best inner 50’s Patsy Cline on this track. Twin fiddles and steel guitar and playful lyrics bring out the best in Roberts’ style and vocals.

Roberts also soars on another classic ballad, "Whiskey and You." Roberts carefully compares and contrasts the differences between bourbon and a significant other- suggesting that getting over a whisky hangover is easier than a relationship. Her intimate vocals and delicate delivery of this tune draw comparisons to best of Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis ballads. This approach seems to work best on the songs with lyrical bite as “One for the Road” exemplifies another terrific heartbreak ballad. A couple has come down to the end of the relationship and have an opportunity for one last memory to hold on to before they part ways. She suggests that they spend one last night together making love as that memory. At once sultry and sad, it’s got lyrical teeth and music production that matches perfectly.

Of the uptempo numbers, the opening track, “Mama Said Don’t” and “You Got Me” are the strongest. “Mama,” tells of the story of a rebellious daughter who may always hears her mother, but doesn’t always listen. When her mom tells her not to get her dress wet by wading in the river, she simply slips off the whole thing and leaves it on the shore. It’s a cute opening track. “You Got Me” draws on the stylings that make Josh Turner’s songs fell like throwbacks and the simple little track turns out to be a great little innocent dance number.

Only the last track feels somewhat out of place. The twelve-track album closes with a commercial song written for racing’s largest organization called “NASCAR Party.” Imagine Hank Jr’s “Are You Ready For Some Football” or Faith Hill’s Sunday Night Football theme. On an album that never strays far off course from an approach that lines up well with the music from her first two albums, this particular track doesn’t fit with the others.

Roberts is a truly a gifted vocalist with a passion for the classic country she grew up on listening to in her mother’s pick-up truck. It shines through like a beacon on nearly every track. For the listener who appreciates that approach and that beautiful soulful southern twang voice, this is a treat for a music collection.

Suggested Tracks-
Yesterday’s Blues
You Got Me
Whiskey and You
Carolina from My Soul
One for the Road

Sounds Like-
Faith Hill’s early stuff playing on the AM dial

The Verdict-
Three and a half stars out of five

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