Sunday, March 5, 2023

Julie Christensen: “The Price We Pay For Love” (2023) CD Review

Like a lot of folks, I was first exposed to Julie Christensen’s vocal talent through her work with Leonard Cohen. And honestly, that would have been enough for me to love her. But then I started paying attention to her other projects, and was surprised at the wide range of musical interests she has. Who would have thought one of Leonard Cohen’s vocal angels was also into punk? Well, Julie Christensen is a member of the Divine Horsemen, and has also performed with The Flesh Eaters. In addition, she has sung on albums by artists like Steve Wynn, Robben Ford, and John Doe. She also put out an album with Stone Cupid, and has a solo career. Last year she gave us 11 From Kevin: Songs Of Kevin Gordon, an album of covers. Now she presents The Price We Pay For Love, which contains a mix of covers and original material. The album’s title comes from the message Queen Elizabeth II delivered to the families of those lost on September 11th: “Grief is the price we pay for love” (that line is printed on the back of the CD case). The songs on this disc do deal with love and grief, and for those of us currently grieving, we can find some solace in knowing we have loved. And we can find it in the music of this album. The album is in collaboration with Terry Lee Burns, who plays acoustic bass and does the string arrangements on these tracks. On several tracks, they are joined by guest musicians.

The album begins with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira,” the title track from Mitchell’s 1976 album. Julie Christensen delivers a gorgeous version, this track pulling us in with its contemplative, introspective air. “There’s comfort in melancholy/When there’s no need to explain,” she sings early in the song, and those lines really set the tone for this track. There is comfort here. And there is companionship, her voice meeting us along this strange, sometimes lonely road. She sings, “I see something of myself in everyone,” and perhaps we find something of ourselves in this song. That is followed by “Goldbridge Road,” a song written by Michael Moss, who joins her here on acoustic guitar. Sergio Webb, who played on 11 From Kevin: Songs Of Kevin Gordon, plays slide guitar here, and Steve Schwelling is on drums. At the beginning of this song, there is a return to the family’s old house, sparking memories. “I’m sorry I lied to you about Easter/And I lied about Santa Claus/I lied about the tooth fairy/And that monster in the hall.” Those lines grabbed me. There is something playful about them, but also kind of sad. And how often do we hear an apology about those stories from childhood? And how often do parents wonder about the effect they might have had on the person’s development and choices? For this song is about the present, when the child is grown and distant. “You’re so far away now/The weather is cold/I hear you don’t have a decent coat, my baby/I wish you were here now, wish you could stay/Wish I could put you on my shoulders.” This song had me in tears, for there is certainly some regret and longing. Though there is also a positive aspect to it, as Julie sings, “Because good love never dies/It just hides deep inside.”

Julie Christensen covers “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress,” written by Jimmy Webb, delivering a moving vocal performance. She is joined on this track by John Funkhouser on piano. The song’s title, as you likely know, comes from a Robert Heinlein novel. I’ve been meaning to revisit some of his books, for lately I keep coming across references to his work. Then we get the first of the album’s tracks co-written by Julie Christensen, “How He Lost Her.” This is a song that she wrote with Wendy Waldman. It opens with these lines: “He stands by the window, staring at the rain/It came down all night and most of today.” It’s a song about loss and grief, and searching for answers that will not come. “And the wind roars like angels/And it sounds like her voice/How he lost her/He’ll never know.” She expresses some of that pain in her voice, delivering a passionate performance. John Funkhouser is again on piano, offering some gentle, beautiful work. Sergio Webb joins them on slide guitar, coming in partway through the track, and adding to the emotional impact of the song. That is followed by “Save Your Love For Me,” a song written by Buddy Johnson. There is something wonderfully soothing about this rendition, and Julie Christensen’s vocal performance is fantastic, helping to make this one of the disc’s highlights. “And though I know that no good/Can ever come from loving you/I can’t do a thing, ‘cause I’m so in love with you/So, darling, help me please/Have mercy on a fool like me.”

I love when Julie Christensen delivers a good jazz vocal performance, as she does on her special cover of Weather Report’s “A Remark You Made.” That song was originally an instrumental, but Julie Christensen has added her own set of lyrics to it. “Didn’t know at the time/What was on your mind/But I had a kind of premonition there in mind/And you know it might have been just fine/But I’m resigned/And now I know it’s time.” John Funkhouser plays melodica on this track. At the end, Julie sings, “Underneath the words/You tried to say you couldn’t stay/But underneath the words/I saw the day you’d walk away.” There is a sense of melancholy, but acceptance. That’s followed by “All The River,” which Julie Christensen wrote with Karen Hammack, who plays piano on this track. Chris Tench joins them on lap steel. “And when I woke up today/I forgot to cry/All my tears have been long dry/From filling the river.” Oh yes, I know that day will come. This is another beautiful and moving song. Check out these lines: “Hard times happen in every life/Nobody’s free from pain and trial/And all the birds will keep on singing/Even after they cannot fly.” Wow. This is one of my personal favorites on this album.

“Away With Words” is another piece that was originally an instrumental, composed by John Scofield, to which Julie Christensen added her own lyrics. It’s interesting that both pieces to which she added lyrics are about communication, about words – “A Remark You Made” and “Away With Words.” “And even though you want to say you’re sorry/Away with words.” There is a wonderful instrumental section in the middle. “Away with all the things I know you want to tell me/And away with all the words I wish I’d hear you whisper.” Julie Christensen then delivers a powerful rendition of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” featuring a strong, moving and earnest vocal performance. Even that “Ooh, ooh” section is striking. John Funkhouser plays piano, and Greg Leisz is on lap steel on this track. The album concludes with “Hilltop,” a song written by Terry Lee Burns. These are the opening lines: “In my mind, I see you/Just the way you used to be/Small and frail, but full of life/You were everything to me/Your face, your voice, your very soul/I’ll miss until I go.” It is a song of hope and love. Karen Hammack plays piano on this track, delivering some touching work.

CD Track List

  1. Hejira
  2. Goldbridge Road
  3. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
  4. How He Lost Her
  5. Save Your Love For Me
  6. A Remark You Made
  7. All The River
  8. Away With Words
  9. Can’t Find My Way Home
  10. Hilltop

The Price We Pay For Love is scheduled to be released on April 14, 2023 on Wirebird Records.

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