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Re: Where the Fireworks Are

“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 trying… Score another one for the non-Industry.”

                             Greg Burk, veteran music scribe,


“…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.”

                                      --Thom Jurek, All-Music Guide

Julie 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

Julie Christensen 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

At 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…”

                                                --Kirk Silsbee, L.A. City Beat, Oct. 29, 2006


From Greg Burk's "Metal Jazz" site:


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 trying.

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 non-ornamental function.

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.




Something Familiar

Julie Christensen | Household Ink Records (2007)

By Michael P. Gladstone

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Julie 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.

Something Familiar 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.

Personnel: Julie 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.

Style: Vocal | Published: August 06, 2007




by Thom Jurek, All-Music Guide

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 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."

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 some spins.

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 after it.

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."

— E-mail music writer Bill Locey at

E.W. Scripps Co.
© 2008 Ventura County Star

Ventura County Reporter, 5-17-07

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




or 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.”

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.”




L.A. Jazz Scene review, Jan. 2007

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.

Julie Christensen plays SOhO on Monday, October 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 962-7776.


from Soul Driver live sessions      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 February, 2005....

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.

Quick facts
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 songs, “Suzanne.”

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 with them.

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 Hate.”

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 they saw.”

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)

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
Starring: Beth Orton, Bono, Nick Cave, Julie Christensen, Adam Clayton?
Directed by: Lian Lunson

Main Reviews

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, delivering a
rich, passionate exploration of Bird On a Wire.

It was a wondrous night. A long, winding, rich and constantly rewarding
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, among others.

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 on."

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 disappointing."

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 Men.

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 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."



Related Genres: Rock

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



Pop Music;
Lhasa Club Spirit Brought to Life


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 all-around
toast of the town for his "Dances With Wolves" script, he can return the
favor and present similar evenings of acoustic music and verse himself,
albeit with a much higher industry profile.

Friday and Saturday nights, in otherwise separate bills, Blake was the
centerpiece of two programs dubbed "The Race Is On," in which the Lhasa
spirit was successfully transplanted to the cafe at Raleigh Studios in
Hollywood. The Southwestern-styled cafeteria at the film studio where
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, given the
denim spirit and environmental concerns of the proceedings. At the late
show Friday, chanteuse Julie Christensen sang a soaringly lovely song
about driving through the majesty of Idaho to visit Exene Cervenka (not
present this time),
and John Doe invoked the ghost of Woody Guthrie in
dedicating a duet with Tony Gilkyson to drought-stricken farmers.
Exactly which race the participants consider to be on was not entirely
clear, beyond the general onus of anti-war, pro-environment progressive
politics; this was one benefit where more time could have been
spent on the soapbox. (A card given out to departing attendees pitched
the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation.)
Blake's climactic reading of an excerpt from "Helmut," a
Hollywood-themed novel in progress, was much anticipated. But the clear
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

Type of Material: Concert Review