Christensen -- Leonard Cohen backup vocalist, member of the Divine Horsemen,
longtime folk-jazz-blues singer-songwriter, etc. -- has somehow summed up a
whole generation’s frustrated idealism in a suite of songs. You’ve probably
grown used to media suggestions that anyone who ever wanted to change the world
is an idiot, but Christensen will make you glad you’re still trying… Score
another one for the non-Industry.”
Greg Burk, veteran music scribe, metaljazz.com
“…an enthralling song stylist
who can take virtually any material and make it her own. Something Familiar is a
collection of "standards" but not in the usual sense. Christensen… has learned
the importance of learning the nuances and ambiguous areas of expression in the
popular song styles of the 20th century and in doing so has become a tremendous
stylist. She holds within the grain of her voice, elegance, grace, sass,
sensuality, and spit.”
Christensen is a jazz vocalist with a very non-jazz past, who can easily win you
over with her unusual delivery and choice of material.”
--Michael B. Gladstone,
All About Jazz
is one of the truer singers you’ll ever hear — straight up, no mannerisms,
perfect taste; listen to her takes on “But Beautiful,” “Stolen Moments” and
“Blame It on My Youth,” from her piercing new Something Familiar, and
recognize how she could sing with both Leonard Cohen and Chris D.
--Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly
BB King's, versatile singer Julie Christensen (yes,
of the Divine Horsemen) works her new jazz album, Something Familiar
(Household Ink). She’s retained the soulful arc of her sustained notes, and
songs by Loesser, Mingus, and Oliver Nelson stud her repertoire…”
Julie Christensen and Stone Cupid,
“Where the Fireworks Are” (Household Ink)
If you know what the Fish Cheer was, or
remember where you were when Paul was
replaced by a robot Beatle, this album will
sound like an old friend. Julie Christensen
-- Leonard Cohen backup vocalist, member of
the Divine Horsemen, longtime
folk-jazz-blues singer-songwriter, etc. --
has somehow summed up a whole generation’s
frustrated idealism in a suite of songs.
You’ve probably grown used to media
suggestions that anyone who ever wanted to
change the world is an idiot, but
Christensen will make you glad you’re still
Her voice is right for the job -- it
strives, it’s strong, but her high sustained
tremolos, warbling so fast that they’re
almost subliminal, also convey fragility.
She’s almost foresworn reverb, so she
doesn’t sound like a lush thrush, more like
a naked messenger. She sings that she wants
to “make something pretty before my world
comes tumblin’ down”: The crafted beauty has
Christensen is good at mixing the
personal and the political. The title track,
the record’s most immediate rocker with its
coarse guitar and Neil Young plod, plays as
both a sex ode and a rebel’s farewell:
“between the purple mountain and a molotov.”
After beginning with a bucket-seat necking
session set to whitened Sam & Dave soul,
“The Meteor” observes how even bright and
powerful forces can make little real impact.
But that doesn’t stop Christensen from
concluding the album with “One More Song,”
an ever-renewing testimony she’ll always
sing regardless of the odds.
Along her path of struggle, Christensen
carefully places familiar landmarks to give
you some context. Elvis Costello’s
“Shipbuilding” reminds that even the
innocent have their part in cranking out the
war machinery. In an especially sensitive
reading, Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going
To Rain Today” is a perfect sigh of periodic
despair. “Psycho Killer” owes little to
Talking Heads, substituting a more
believable teethgrit anger for the
original’s neurotic hysteria. And if you
thought you could never draw something new
from Joni Mitchell/CSNY’s “Woodstock,” try
this version’s quiet, steady optimism; I had
never really heard the words “We are
stardust, billion-year-old carbon” before --
that’s the kind of perspective Rob Waller
can identify with.
The musicans of Stone Cupid are so, so
good. First of all, guitarist Joe Woodard,
keyboardist Karen Hammack (both of whom help
with the songwriting), bassist Steve Nelson
and drummer Tom Lackner accompany
Christensen with tuned-in economy and
wonderfully inventive texture, offering
little flashbacks of Lou Reed’s “Going Down”
or the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old
Dixie Down” or Steely Dan’s “Dr. Wu.” And
the evaporative audio collages they bring in
as song introductions go a long way toward
augmenting the album’s continuity and
individuality. Christensen (who lives in
Ojai, California) and this crew (from nearby
Santa Barbara) have worked together a long
time; it’s hard to imagine “Where the
Fireworks Are” coming together without this
kind of marinated intimacy and trust.
Score another one for the non-Industry.
“WHERE THE FIREWORKS ARE” IS AVAILABLE AT
Christensen is a jazz vocalist with a very non-jazz past, who
can easily win you over with her unusual delivery and choice of
begins with Jimmy Webb's obscure “Just Like Marilyn,” and seems
about as far away from a jazz opener as one can get. By the time
Christensen segues into Frank Loesser’s “Never Will I Marry,”
from the Broadway musical, Greenwillow, there’s the
feeling that good things could be ahead. A few tunes from the
Great American Songbook, including Burke/Van Heusen’s “But
Beautiful,” Rodgers and Hart’s “Have You Met Miss Jones?” and
Levant/Heyman’s “Blame It on My Youth,” may set up the listener
for a lull in the album but this is not to be.
Christensen follows with a
noirish version of Charles Mingus' “Orange was the Color of Her
Dress, Then Blue Silk” with her own original lyrics. Mark
Murphy’s lyrics to the Oliver Nelson jazz standard “Stolen
Moments” are given a lengthy and relaxed reading by Christensen,
as well as the Eddie Jefferson lyrics to Bird's “Billie's
Bounce.” A Christensen original, “Hard to Love,” and the closer
“Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief”—a 1940s hit from Hoagy Carmichael
and Paul Francis Webster—complete the album.
In examining Christensen's
background, the Midwestern country and western swing singer
relocated to Texas, then joined up with alt.punk band Divine
Horsemen, and married one of its foundling members. When that
relationship ended in 1987, Christensen was invited to tour with
Leonard Cohen. She recorded her first, well-received album in
1996, but it gave her fans and the public little reason to
suspect that she was entering a cabaret/jazz setting.
So just what is it that
makes Christensen such a standout? It certainly isn't her
sometimes quirky voice, which is insinuating and probing more
than stentorian. Despite her lack of jazz vocal background, she
does command a sensibility that allows her to provide sensuality
and grace to these songs, in addition to a real R&B
connectivity, evidenced by her version of the Aretha
Franklin-associated “Today I Sing The Blues.”
The musicians on this date
represent the various styles that Christensen presents on
Something Familiar. On the Webb tune, veteran pedal steel
player Greg Leisz is prominently, featured while on others
pianist Karen Hammack, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney and drummer
Jeff Ballard are among the jazz players who kick in for this
unusual and very effective album.
We don't know where she's
going but we do know!
Track listing: Just Like Marilyn; Never Will I Marry; But
Beautiful; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Orange Was the Color of Her
Dress, Then Silk Blue; Stolen Moments; Billie's Bounce; Blame It
On My Youth; Today I Sing the Blues; Hard to Love; Doctor,
Lawyer, Indian Chief.
Christensen: vocals; Karen Hammack: piano; Dan Falcone: bass;
Mary Ann McSweeney: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums; Kenny Wollesen:
drums; Greg Leisz: pedal steel guitar; Jeff Elliott: trumpet,
flugelhorn; Dr. Dave Christensen: guitar.
Julie Christensen has come a long way from her days with the Divine
Horsemen, a doomy, spooky early cowpunk band that she co-fronted with
the Flesheaters Chris D. Most folks know Christensen as one of Leonard
Coehn's longtime backing vocalists. But few, so very few, know her as an
enthralling song stylist who can take virtually any material and make it
her own. Something Familiar is a collection of "standards" but
not in the usual sense. Growing up in the 1960s, and '70s and coming of
age in the '80s, Christensen hasn't merely taken into herself the music
of those eras, but has also learned the importance of learning the
nuances and ambiguous areas of expression in the popular song styles of
the 20th century and in doing so has become a tremendous stylist. She
holds within the grain of her voice, elegance, grace, sass, sensuality,
and spit. As this set opens with Jimmy Webb's "Just Like Marilyn," and
Christensen and her accompanists-that include J.B. White, Kenny Wollesen,
and Greg Leisz-she takes the song as a modern lament, and in spaces lets
the grit in the Webb (a native Oklahoman) original slip through as
naturally as the red dirt adorns the land. For the most part its
swirling beauty is held in tension which makes the song work so well as
something knew. "Never Will I Marry," by Frank Loesser works a little
less so, simply because Christensen slips just a bit rhythmically. It's
all good in "But Beautiful," though. She not only paces the tune
beautifully, but brings out its smoky graciousness and sultry
contemplation. One of the tremendous surprises here is her reading of
Charles Mingus's "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue."
Led by Karen Hammack's gorgeous piano playing, and the subtle, in the
pocket bassline of Mary Ann McSweeney, she finds the bluesy swing bump
right away and lets her voice swoop and swoon with just enough of an
erotic acknowledgement-like the jazz singer on the bandstand who can see
it all and sings to egg on the gentlemen toward the unattainable lady
sitting alone at table four-to bring the imperceptible hip twitch out of
the tune. Ms. Christensen also covers tunes by Oliver Nelson ("Stolen
Moments"), Charlie Parker ("Billie's Bounce"), and others, but just
before the end of the set brigs out one of her own and it's a stunner.
"Hard To Love," features Christensen with Hammack, Leisz, Wollesen and
bassist Don Falzone," in a ballad of unbearable amorous tension and the
heartbreak of realization that it's all gone: "We had a great love/It'
doesn't mean it's a good love/So Am I telling this to you/Or am I
talking to myself/When I won't have to try to love you anymore/Why
should you be so hard to love . . ." The pain in the grain of her voice,
and the confusion of her epiphany fight for dominance ion her lyric. Her
singing is the poetry, and her lyric is the frame she hangs it on.
Something Familiar is not one of those records we have dozens of in
2006-where the girl singer tries her hand at the classics. Christensen
doesn't play with these songs. She works them, and in the process
stretches herself. She falters once in a blue moon here, but only for a
second at a time, she never loses the song. This recording, being issued
on the independent Household Ink label (try looking for it by the label
dot com), but it is well worth seeking out because it is an encounter
with popular song unlike any other, which is as high a compliment as can
be paid to this gifted vocalist.
Stone Cupid leader will set off 'Fireworks' at SOhO gig on Monday
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Courtesy photo Julie Christensen
has kept this napkin drawn by Leonard Cohen.
Courtesy of Michael Kelly "The
SOhO gig will be fun," Julie Christensen says. "I've played a lot of jazz and it
keeps you on your toes."
Julie Christensen's got all kinds of cred: '80s L.A. rock cred, jazz cred,
Leonard Cohen cred, Ojai Valley cred and mom cred. She's also got a hot band,
Stone Cupid, that will back her up Monday night at a gig up the stairs at SOhO
in Santa Barbara.
Once upon a time, she was one of the frantic frontpersons, along with
then-husband Chuck D., for those swamp-rockin' Divine Horsemen, riding along
right in the middle of that most memorable early-'80s L.A. rock scene. Later,
she traveled around the world as one of Leonard Cohen's backup singers (along
with Ojai resident Perla Batalla).
She's married with children in Ojai, has played with everyone, made a few
albums (her latest is "Where the Fireworks Are"), and plays gigs like the SOhO
now and again.
Obviously, she can sing.
Not only has Christensen found her niche — pop, rock, jazz, blues and
whatever else — but she's also found perspective, proven by her witty answers,
via e-mail, to the sometimes witless questions.
What's new in Stone Cupid world?
We did our first house concert, so we're very excited about doing more of
those. It was so intimate and cool; relaxed but intense. We just sent out "Where
the Fireworks Are" to radio stations across the country, so we're hoping for
Where'd you get the name Stone Cupid?
I have this little plaster cupid from a lawn ornament place, and one night
around 1989 when I was waiting for a beau to show up at my apartment, I looked
at it and started a song as an exercise. The song became "Stone Cupid," kind of
based on the Cupid and Psyche myth, which I finally put on my second indie
album, "Soul Driver." I named my band, my publishing company and my Web site
When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
I don't remember NOT knowing. When I was little, my neighbors told my parents
they liked hearing me sing on the way home from school. I had my first classical
voice teacher in fifth grade. My brothers and I used to play all the way through
Neil Young's "Harvest" sheet music book on vacations.
How did you get involved with Leonard Cohen?
When I was in Austin, (Texas), I played jazz with members of a band called
Passenger. They came out to L.A. in 1979 to hit it big. Joni Mitchell passed on
them as a band for "Miles of Aisles," but Cohen was there and said, "I'll take 'em."
I didn't meet Cohen until 1988, when Roscoe Beck, the bass player from that
band, asked me to come on board, with the caveat that Leonard had to meet me
first. I played the version of "Suzanne" that I learned in college. I didn't
even get past the intro. Leonard said, "Well, that's wrong, darling, but let's
go have lunch." We ate at this diner with Roscoe, and chatted awhile, and he
hired me even without hearing me sing. It's important when you tour with people
that you can eat with them.
How do you survive on the road?
I try to catch sleep whenever I can. I've napped in all sorts of exotic
places. I spend quality time with myself and write a lot in journals.
What's your take on the local scene?
It's hard for me to get out enough to be supportive of it. I'm a mom. My
kid's a teenager and is always saying I should go out more often. But seriously,
I need to stop using that excuse! Lots of people are parents.
It seems that you have gained what many musicians lack: perspective. Yes? No?
I know I don't know anything. Things go up and then down, so life humbles
you, if you're paying attention. The only way to feel on top of the world is to
accept that now is the only moment you can live in. Don't forget to love.
What's the best and worst thing about being a musician?
The best part is re-creating the old camaraderie of musicians and listeners,
and I get to play with so many fine, incredible players. The SOhO gig will be
fun; I've played a lot of jazz in my life, especially back in Austin, and it
keeps you on your toes (this is not lounge jazz). The worst is that most music
is listened to on these little transistor-radio-like MP3 players. The full
spectrum of sound and emotion that comes from so many great performers is lost
in the ether.
Any advice for the next generation of singers?
Learn to function on the Web for yourself. Befriend lots of good musicians of
many styles and generations. Learn to make your own chord charts. Invest in
lessons. Learn about business. Balance humility and confidence. And do not watch
or participate in "American Idol."
The great leap forward
Julie Christensen takes us to Where the
~ By BRETT LEIGH DICKS ~
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
“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.”
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
“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
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
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.”
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
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
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
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.
Julie Christensen plays SOhO on Monday, October 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.
For more information, call 962-7776.
reviews of film Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
A documentary on the life and times of Montreal poet-singer-songerwriter
Leonard Cohen, with performances of his work by musicians who
worship at his altar....I like this mix: A little bit of "live"
Cohen, a lot of fresh takes on his songs from Rufus and Martha
Wainwright, Antony, Beth Orton, Jarvis Cocker, Kate and Anna
McGarrigle, Nick Cave (whose anecdotes are illuminating), Perla
Batalla, Teddy Thompson, The Handsome Family and the remarkable vocal gymnast Julie Christensen (whose
eerie voice can sound like a human Theremin).
Except for that New York club shoot with U2 and Cohen, all the
performances are from a concert at the Sydney Opera House in
Thorough it’s not, but the concert documentary “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your
Man” gathers solid interviews, anecdotes, recitations and
tribute performances that present a fairly engaging portrait of
the wry, dark poet who became a distinct voice in pop music.
“I’m Your Man” is unlikely to appeal much beyond Cohen’s loyal
fans or bring converts to the brooding whimsy and dense wordplay
of his songs. The movie does do a far better job than a couple
of 1990s tribute albums in matching Cohen’s sobering lyricism
with kindred spirits who can do justice to the tunes during a
concert in his honor in Sydney, Australia.
Fellow somber travelers such as Nick Cave, Kate and Anna
McGarrigle, Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Beth Orton are among
those covering songs that span most of Cohen’s 40-year career.
Starring: Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Beth
Orton, Jarvis Cocker
Director: Lian Lunson
Run time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
The reclusive Cohen offers warm and amusing recollections and
teams with U2 for a version of “Tower of Song” as the
documentary’s musical finale, though the strangely cloistered,
unsatisfying cover winds up anticlimactic after some grand live
renditions by other performers.
With Mel Gibson’s film company producing, music-video maker and
former actress Lian Lunson captures music producer Hal Willner’s
Cohen tribute concert “Came So Far for Beauty” at the Sydney
Opera House in 2005.
Interspersed between the performances are frank, wistful
segments with Cohen, who also recites some of his poetry.
Canadian-born Cohen discusses his boyhood, his father’s death,
the Montreal poetry scene, his spiritual quest with a Zen master
and the real-life woman who inspired one of his best-known
Cohen, whose bass vocals often lean more toward talking along to
the music than singing, also touches on his musical abilities.
“I had the title ‘poet,’ and maybe I was one for a while. Also
the title ‘singer’ was kindly accorded me even though I could
barely carry a tune,” Cohen recites from one of his poems.
Even so, trained singers have trouble approaching Cohen’s
soulful depth when covering his songs. Willner assembles
musicians who deeply respect Cohen’s songs and know what to do
Cave energetically sings “I’m Your Man” and does a hushed
rendition of “Suzanne.” The McGarrigle sisters and Martha
Wainwright (daughter of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright
III) bring beautiful, trilling harmonies to “Winter Lady,” and
Wainwright, brother Rufus and Joan Wasser trade passionate
verses on “Hallelujah.”
Annoyingly, Lunson drops interview segments into the middle of
some performances, though she thankfully leaves intact the
film’s two standouts, Orton’s achingly gorgeous rendition of
“Sisters of Mercy” and Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla’s
duet on “Anthem.”
Interviews with the musicians are a mixed bag. Rufus Wainwright
vividly relates the first time he met Cohen, who was in his
underwear, feeding tidbits of sausage to a sickly baby bird.
Cave talks with wonder about the transformative day from his
youth when a friend played him Cohen’s album “Songs of Love and
U2 frontman Bono and guitarist The Edge have some nice insights,
yet both grow overly grandiose in their fawning praise of Cohen
(“He’s the man for me who comes down from the mountaintop with
the tablets of stone, having been up there talking with the
angels,” The Edge says).
Bono redeems himself with this great summation of Cohen’s grim
yet playful sensibilities:
“A lot of writers have dared to walk up the edge of reason and
stared into that great chasm, into the abyss,” Bono says. “Very
few people have got there and kind of laughed out loud at what
LEONARD COHEN I’M YOUR MAN If you can’t think of a crisis in
your life that’s tied to a Leonard Cohen song, then Canadian
director Lian Lunson’s velvety, exuberantly hagiographic film of
a 2005 Sydney tribute concert to the Prince of Pain may not be
the movie for you. If you can, the experience will be weepy
bliss. Produced by Hal Willner, the concert shows off Cohen’s
unifying influence on an astonishingly diverse range of
musicians, from Nick Cave (giving the lounge-lizard treatment to
“I’m Your Man”), to Antony jigging up and down in an unraveled
sweater and making a gorgeous symphony out of “If It Be Your
Will,” a sweet duet of “Anthem” by (concert organizers) Julie
Christensen and Perla Batalla and a rousing rendition of
“Everybody Knows” by the Wainwright family. Cohen sings “Tower
of Song” at the end, flanked by U2, but his life flashes by us,
intercut with the musical numbers, in grainy footage and wry
commentary by the man himself. A total babe in his salad days,
if that’s the right expression for a man plagued all his life
with depression, at 71 Cohen looks like any one of my
heavy-lidded Jewish uncles, only with better suits. (He never
got into the jeans thing, even while hanging with the Beats at
the Chelsea Hotel.) But notwithstanding a touching moment when
he gropes for the name of a musical movement (“Punk, that’s
it!”), he’s sharp as a tack and as ready as ever to debunk his
own myths: He can’t carry a tune. In his years as a monk, “I
hated everyone, but acted generously.” And how could he be a
ladies’ man when he spent “10,000 nights alone”?
Cohen may be as obsessive a reviser of his own history as he is
of his songs and poems, but his way with words is so sublime, so
gently precise and musical, you’d be a churl to quibble. And he
seems as genuinely humble as he is proud to be lionized in such
good musical company. “The Wainwrights have brought my music to
life,” he says, “and I appreciate it.” Just as well, for if
anyone steals his thunder in this movie it’s the magnetic Rufus
Wainwright, who, with his sister Martha, brings such rapture to
“Hallelujah,” among others, that you rediscover Cohen’s songs
for the continuous hymnal they are. Angelic, sexy, androgynous
and mischievously louche, Wainwright couldn’t be less like the
manly, bass-voiced Cohen. But in putting his own simple yet
operatic spin on Cohen’s gift for suffering and exaltation, he’s
also keeping the faith. I don’t know whether those rolled-back
eyes are the result of ecstasy or Ecstasy, but if Wainwright
carries on making music like this, he’ll make willing bisexuals
of us all. (Ella Taylor)
I'm so proud of this Review of the recent Cohen Retrospective
Show From the Sydney Morning Herald.....
Came So Far For Beauty
By Bernard Zuel
January 31, 2005
Page Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, January 28
In Leonard Cohen's 1973 song A Singer Must Die, presenting
himself before a panel of stern judges he declares: "I'm sorry
for smudging the air with my song." Some smudge. Some song.
That smudge's lasting imprint on several generations of singers
and fellow songwriters is the subtext of what simplistically
would be called a tribute show but in effect was a celebration
of song. Spread across nearly four hours it was as strong on
interpretation as it was light on unnecessary reverence; as
steeped in Jacques Brel and country music as German cabaret and
folk; as joyous as it was moving.
You could see that with a cocked-hip Jarvis Cocker wholly
inhabiting Death of a Ladies Man (in duet with Beth Orton) and
bringing a self-mocking playboy touch to I Can't Forget. And
certainly it was there in Nick Cave, who made us re-evaluate one
of Cohen's more contentious songs, Diamonds In The Mine - "a
nasty Leonard Cohen song" he cheerfully declared - by playing up
some Vegas sleaze while the always impressive and flexible
backing group briefly turned into Elvis
Presley's TCB band.
Not that the evening's stars were only the best-known faces. The
Handsome Family took and gave great delight by relocating A
Heart With No Companion to the Kentucky hills, while Teddy
Thompson (whose mother Linda Thompson earlier had hushed the
room with The Story of Isaac) found a bruised centre to lines
such as "I choose the rooms that I live in with care/the windows
are small and the walls almost bare".
And in the category of "where the hell has he been hiding?" was
the hulking, shambling figure of New York singer Antony, who
left open mouths on and off the stage with his heart-piercing
explorations of The Guests and the prayer-like If It Be Your
Will. (He's playing tonight at the Vanguard and must be seen.)
What was staggering was how each time you thought the night
had just had its peak someone else would stroll on stage and
give you another one. And then another. For example, Rufus
Wainwright's version of Hallelujah, which escaped from the
shadow of Jeff Buckley's seemingly definitive interpretation
with an elegant but effortlessly transporting take, is the kind
of song that would climax any regular show, but here was
presented early in the first set. Three songs later a former
Cohen backing vocalist, Julie Christiansen[sp], beautifully
balanced The Singer Must Die between pathos and humour and upped
the ante again.
Martha Wainwright's bared-to-the-bone Tower of Song was matched
by her appearance with her mother and aunt, Kate and Anna
McGarrigle, on a spare but riveting You Know Who I Am. But soon
after that came Perla
Batalla, the other of Cohen's long-term backing vocalists,
rich, passionate exploration of Bird On a Wire.
It was a wondrous night. A long, winding, rich and constantly
evening brought to us by the musical equivalent of a fantasy
football team whose dedication was to the work and not the ego.
Somewhere in California you imagine the droll Mr Cohen hearing
this and saying to them, "I thank you, I thank you for doing
your duty/you keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty".
Billboard February 8, 1997 Stone Cupid's Christensen In Gear With "Driving"
by Chris Morris (reprinted by permission)
LOS ANGELES--When vocalist Julie Christensen approached Dave
Crouch, GM of the Rhino Records store in West Los Angeles, to
see if he would take copies of her self-released album "Love is
Driving," Crouch asked her where the album should be stocked.
Crouch recalls, "She said, 'It's jazz/country/
swing/folk/rock/cabaret.' It's hard to figure out where to put
it, because she does all that stuff well"
Indeed, in her 15-plus years on the L.A. music scene,
Christensen has been recognized as a singer's singer who is
comfortable with material in every imaginable genre.
"Yeah, that's my blessing and my curse," Christensen says with a
laugh about her reputation for versatility. The singer's diverse
resume includes stints in a Western swing outfit and torchy
jazz/blues/R&B combos; several albums co-fronting the seminal
early-'80s L.A. post-punk band Divine Horsemen; leadership of
her own intimate jazz/pop groups; two years as a featured backup
singer for Leonard Cohen; and session and concert work with Van
Dyke Parks, Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Steve Wynn, and k.d.lang,
But only now has Christensen, who recorded an album for PolyGram
with producer Todd Rundgren in 1990 that went unreleased, issued
an album of her own that captures the full scope of her talents.
Self-written, self-produced, and self-financed, "Love is
Driving" has been released on Christensen's Stone Cupid Records.
She believes that audiences for other similarly eclectic and
challenging femalie vocalists may gravitate to her album: "Maybe
the people who listen to Sam Phillips will listen to this, or
the people who listen to Marianne Faithfull."
The wide range of musical styles heard in Christensen's music
has been accumulated over two decades of performing.
Born in Iowa, she sang with a western swing/country rock group
before moving in 1977 to Austin, Texas, where she mixed blues
and jazz during performances at the local clubs. On relocating
to L.A. in 1981, she got into what she terms "post-punk."
Christensen shifted stylistic gears again when, recording a
number for the L.A. cow-punk compilation "Don't Shoot," she met
musician/producer Chris Desjardins, former leader of the
hard-edged punk group the Flesh Eaters, who was then forming a
new band, Divine Horsemen. She ended up joining the group as
co-lead vocalist and later married Desjardins.
Melding her blues-drenched singing and writing to the band's
ferocious punk guitar attack, Christensen cut three albums and
an EP with Divine Horsemen for indie SST Records. But
Christensen and Desjardins' marriage unraveled, and she exited
the group in 1987.
In 1988, at the invitation of Cohen's musical director, Roscoe
Beck, Christensen toured the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a
backup vocalist for the singer/songwriter. She continued to
perform her own material in L.A. usually in a trio format, often
accompanied by the remarkable blind New Orleans pianist Henry
Butler. It was during this period that A&R exec Michael
Goldstone--then moving from MCA to PolyGram, and today a key
executive at DreamWorks--approached Christensen at one of her
solo shows at McCabe's Guitar Shop.
"He said,'Get me a tape right away.' He didn't really know what
we were gonna do...He spent $50,000 doing two or three songs
with a producer with whom I'd written a couple of these songs.
Then Michael left PolyGram and went to Epic, and I [made an
album] with Todd Rundgren producing it"
Further changes ensued within PolyGram's A&R staff, and the
label decided not to release the Rundgren-produced album. After
that disappointing experience, Christensen says,"I went out and
got a life." In the early '90s, Christensen married again (to
actor John Diehl), worked regularly with her own small groups,
and made frequent appearances for the Bohemian Women's Political
Alliance, a group of L.A. artist/activists. In 1993, soon after
giving birth to son Jackson, Christensen went out on a second
tour with Cohen.
Everything began to click for Christensen when she and her
family moved to ... a picturesque town north of L.A. near Santa
Barbara. Most of her current band members have ties to the town.
"Getting out [there], a lot of things became clear," Christensen
says. "I started working with a different piano player, Karen
Hammack, who is just a gold mine and a secret weapon, and a
really good friend...[Drummer]Jim Christie has been playing with
me for years...I went through different bass players, but Cliff
[Hugo] is somebody I played with at my first showcase at the Bla
Bla Cafe in 1981. He's played with Ray Charles, and he's been
with Melissa Manchester for 15 years. That trio really locked
Christensen says she had no intention of making an album when
she cut the sessions that became "Love is Driving." "We were
going in to just demo some tunes," she says. "If I had just set
out to make a record, I don't know [if it would have worked],
because the [PolyGram] experience was so monumentally
The album came in--"manufacturing and all"--at less than
$13,000, she says, financed with credit cards and promises of
additional payment [if] a distribution deal was found.
The album features Christensen's working band,plus such guests
as vocalist Perla Batalla, who worked alonside Christensen in
Cohen's group; guitarist Robben Ford, an old friend and Ojai
neighbor; and guitarist Greg Leisz, a former member of lang's
band and current guitarist for Dave Alvin's group the Guilty
So far, Christensen has been distributing "Love is Driving"
herself, via mail order and through such L.A. outlets as Rhino,
Aron's Records, and McCabe's...Some specialty shows on L.A. area
public radio stations, like Andrea Leonard's "Twister" on KCRW
Santa Monica and Howard and Roz Larman's "Folkscene" on KPFK
North Hollywood, have aired the record. "Her music is very, very
personal," says Larman. "I don't know if anybody else could do
those songs...you can feel every emotion when she sings. You
don't get that from a lot of performers. She's very intense."
Christensen, whose career is handled by Garry George Management
in L.A., is currently in New York, playing previews for a bill
of Sam Shepard one-act plays that opens Feb. 9 at the Public
Theatre. She has one of the two leading roles in "The Sad Lament
of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife"
While she is mainly proud of shat she has achieved by releasing
her own album, Christensen says, "I don't want to be my own
cottage industry. I do want somebody else to take it over...I
would really love to have somebody produce [my next album] and
make it a more cinematic thing, and not have to be producing it
and doing all of it. I want to write songs and sing and work
with the band. But if I have to produce another one, I'll do it,
because now I know I can."
Sometimes listing an artist's music under one style that fits it
best is a little hard to do -- sometimes it's almost impossible.
With Julie Christensen the latter fits. Her music is a smooth
mix of blues, R&B, jazz, and even a little pop and western
swing. Maybe that's because she has sampled a little of it all
along the path of her career and didn't find any she didn't like
in some way.
Singer and songwriter Christensen was born and raised in Iowa.
Her first band was a little country and western swing group,
which also played rock. In the late 70s she moved to Texas and
picked up jazz and blues. A few years later, she headed to sunny
California and found post-punk floating about. She soon joined a
punk band, Divine Horsemen, and even married one of its founding
members, Chris Desjardins. The group released one EP and three
albums while Christensen was with them.
By 1987 the marriage was over, her part in the band was over,
and she was on her own again. As luck would have it, she was
invited to become a backup singer for the well-known Leonard
Cohen. It gave her the chance to tour through the United States,
Canada, and even into Europe, and to spread her wings some.
In 1996, Christensen released her first solo album, Love is
Driving. Four years later, she finally recorded a sophomore
work, Soul Driver. Some of the superb tracks on her albums that
fans might want to sample are "The Moon Was," "I Have a
Photograph," "Shipwreck," "Biggest Fool of All," and "Sweet
Sound."~ Charlotte Dillon, All Music Guide
Doing a reading Friday night, local poet Doug Knott pointed out
that in the days when screenwriter Michael Blake used to live
out of the
back of his car, Blake would read at the modest shows Knott put
on at the
late and lamented Lhasa Club.
Now that Blake is a Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominee and
toast of the town for his "Dances With Wolves" script, he can
favor and present similar evenings of acoustic music and verse
albeit with a much higher industry profile.
Friday and Saturday nights, in otherwise separate bills, Blake
centerpiece of two programs dubbed "The Race Is On," in which
spirit was successfully transplanted to the cafe at Raleigh
Hollywood. The Southwestern-styled cafeteria at the film studio
Blake and comrade Kevin Costner have long held fort turned out
to be an
appropriately charming and intimate venue for this sort of live
Actually, more than the Lhasa, even, it was possible to imagine
oneself transported to a secret literary nightspot in Montana,
denim spirit and environmental concerns of the proceedings.
At the late
show Friday, chanteuse Julie Christensen sang a soaringly lovely
about driving through the majesty of Idaho to visit Exene
present this time), and John Doe invoked the ghost of Woody
dedicating a duet with Tony Gilkyson to drought-stricken
Exactly which race the participants consider to be on was not
clear, beyond the general onus of anti-war, pro-environment
politics; this was one benefit where more time could have been
spent on the soapbox. (A card given out to departing attendees
the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation.)
Blake's climactic reading of an excerpt from "Helmut," a
Hollywood-themed novel in progress, was much anticipated. But
highlight and crowd favorite Friday was the four-song set from
Christensen, a knockout pop-jazz crooner and inspired songwriter
who has everything it might take to revive the torch-song
tradition among the rock crowd.
PHOTO: Julie Christensen: a set of inspired torch-songs for
PHOTOGRAPHER: ROBERT DURELL / Los Angeles Times