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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Julie Roberts

Men and Mascara

Review by Gary Hill

The "sophomore jinx" it's called. That's the phenomenon where an artist's second album isn't as good as their first one. It makes sense when you think about it. They have several years before a major label contract to write material for the first disc, but only months (or less) to get music ready for the follow up. Well, Roberts isn't immune to this effect. While her debut was a stellar disc - a nearly perfect bluesy old school country release, this one seems to copy that one a bit too closely. In the process it loses most of its individuality. Most of the material here just feels like more of the same - you might say generic. Don't get me wrong, this is still a good disc, it's just not of the same caliber as that debut. She still has a lot of integrity, style and passion and her roots are more in the real older sounds than the modern diluted pop. It's just that it feels like we've heard most of this before. I guess we can figure that with the "jinx" out of the way - and with still a good disc to show for it - it's on to bigger and better releases in the future.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Paint and Pillows
This one has a bit more of a down home country feel than some of the material from Roberts' debut release. It's definitely not modern pseudo country, though - this is strictly old school. The twang's a little heavy for this reviewer, but I have to say that I prefer this real country sound to the pop music that passes for country a lot of the time. It has integrity, character and history.
Smile
This slow, melancholy tune is a more bluesy ballad. Some of the Janis Joplin and other sounds that showed up on that first release are here again. Still definitely country, I like this one a lot better than the opener. The slide guitar work here is a nice touch as is the violin (although I suppose they call it "fiddle").
Too Damn Young
This song really reminds me a lot of one of the cuts from that first album. I want to say it's "Break Down Here," but I can't remember for certain. The thing is, as much of a carbon copy as this is, it's still a strong song - that's how powerful the composition is. This one is more of the bluesy Joplin-like sound, but still retains some twang.
Men And Mascara
The title track is more in the vein of the ballad-styled bluesy mellow number. This is a good one, but a bit too predictable to fall into the "great" category. Still when they pump it up later it gains some oomph.
First to Never Know
A faster paced, more energetic one, this is a step in the right direction.
Chasin' Whiskey
We move back into the bluesy, more ballad like territory on this one. The performance here is one of the most passionate on show and for that reason this is amongst the highlights of the disc. I really like this tune a lot.
A Bridge That's Burning
Now this is exactly what the doctor ordered for a change of pace. This one still has plenty of country texture, but also has a lot of seventies rock thrown into the mix. If the rest of the album had this much of a spirit of exploration it would have fallen into that "great" category. This one is a very dramatic and powerful song that's probably my favorite on show here. The organ, while very subtle, is a nice touch. I hear a bit of Bob Dylan's early electric period on this one. There is a nice rocking guitar solo, and overall the whole song hearkens back to a time when country and rock were firmly merged in the pop music of the 1970's.
Girl Next Door
While this song isn't one of my favorites, it is definitely one of the more interesting tracks here. It seems to merge a lot of sounds that you wouldn't normally hear together. There is an interesting banjo sound on this one and the familiar country textures are joined at times by textures that feel a bit like Don Ho's form of Hawaiian music. Add in a solid classic rock chorus and you'll see that this one is a rather unusual number. While it doesn't set my particular tastes on fire I can certainly appreciate the sense of adventure that it represents. Frankly some of the chorus segments on this are pretty darn strong, too.
Lonely Alone
While this balladic cut is more in the "we've heard it before" vein, after the change up, it's not really a bad thing. My only problem with this one is that at times the arrangement gets a little over done (mostly on the intro). Other than that this is a very good cut.
That Ain't A Crime
This one has a bit more of that folk rock Dylan sort of texture to it. It's another strong cut and Roberts' vocal performance here is among the most evocative on the whole disc. There is some exceptional tasty guitar and "fiddle" work on this one, too.
Mama Don't Cry
Another that calls to mind that certain era of Bob Dylan's work, the vocals here are certainly more Loretta Lynn. This is another very strong cut with a lot of character and emotion. Some of the instrumental play going on in the background is especially meaty.
All I Want Is You
The disc is closed in not the strongest of ways. This is another track that is solid, but pulled down a bit by a too familiar sound.
 
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