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June 2000 UK/Ireland  Pick of the Month
Burn the Black Suit 
Artist: Juliet Turner
Label: Hearthis Records/Sony
Length: 10 tracks

Samples
Queen On Canal Street
Narcissi
The first time I saw Juliet Turner sing she was singing a cover version at a Christian Union meeting and I thought–“If that girl had some good songs she’d be quite good”. Eight years later and Juliet has indeed some good songs. They just happen to be her own. But I could never have imagined that that raw and green little girl could have become the woman who looks up from the back of her second CD and almost says, “If there is a better album by a female songwriter this year I’d like to hear it.” 

Truth is there might not be. This is a revelation of an album. Oh yes the exposure began four years ago when Charlie Irvine somehow encouraged his partners in Scottish Independent label Sticky Music to take a chance with a northern Irish girl who had hardly gigged. They gave her two days in a studio. She recorded everything she’d ever written and wrote one or two quickly and out came Lets Hear It for Pizza. There was more than a twinkle of a talent in songs like "Beyond The Backyard," "Pizza and Wine," and "Too Close for Comfort" to name but three. It was sparse but as the gigs started rolling and musicians started bringing more than an acoustic guitar to those bare boned songs so Turner started really getting after her craft.

But the photograph is now developed and Burn the Black Suit is a young woman at the very peak of the song writing craft. She is a lyricist like no other. Literate. Intelligent without being pretentious. Very original and almost eccentric but never quirky or weird. She deals with love and loss and money and fame in ways that you’ve not quite heard before. And all it seems to be adding to a thesis about identity. Who we are. How much we need to love. What fame and money does to squeeze and push and shove our identity out of the shape that is who we are.

There is the rural Irish girl getting shocked in the gay world of the big city ("Queen on Canal Street"). There is the fledgling and rising singer playing to the vast sea of strangers on the big stage of a summer festival ("Narcissi") There is the girl who feels that “there is love and then there is trying too hard” ("Call Me Green"). There is the struggle of committing to love and letting go of love and friendship ("Belfast Central"). There is the difference between lust and love ("Burn the Black Suit"). There is more of a looking out at the world than on her introspective debut and yet there is still this study of Juliet’s place in the world of love and music. It’s much more worldly wise but still rooted on Dame Street, Belfast Central Station or in her home, small market town ("Omagh") where such tragedy occurred in the summer of ’98 that led Juliet under the most harrowing of circumstances to find transcendent courage and bare her soul before the world.

The sound was always going to be the fascination with this more purposeful and strategically thought through album. Well that is the great success here. The intrigue of the poetry, the soul searching and social investigation have been given a musical backdrop that is as interesting as the songs. Gerard Kiely has given Juliet the big production and yet remained sensitive to the vision. Yes, we have that wonderful mid sixties Dylan drive in the Hammond playing on the reborn "Dr. Fell" and yes we have a radio friendly single in "Take The Money and Run." Yes there is almost a calypso breeze to Burn the Black Suit. Yes it’s all a very full sound best epitomised in Brian Kennedy’s guest vocals on "Sorry To Say" but there is still the tenderness of "Belfast Centra"l and the mood rather than clutter of "Rough Lion’s Tongue." As in her word play there is an instrument play where something is always happening, something always keeping your ear attentive but never losing the vulnerability amidst any needless pomp.

Do you reckon I like it. I am not yet convinced about "Narcissi" and "Sorry to Say."  I am not sure why? Maybe they’ll be the ones I like the longest but I played it the afternoon after I got it on a car journey alone. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I was carried along on the budding of a great songwriter finding her place in the world. I cried. Because I just caught a little glimpse of that little student years ago. And now I listened as she turned into a woman. 

Steve Stockman 5/29/2000


 

Steve Stockman is a Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He used to book the bands for Greenbelt, edits Juice magazine, has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster and a web page - Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and 20 month old daughter Caitlin.

In the four years since Sticky Music presented us with the finely-crafted all-acoustic debut that was Let's Hear It for Pizza, Juliet Turner has had plenty of time to develop her craft. And that time has certainly paid off in this assured and distinctive sophomore offering.

It was Turner's astute observations of life which marked that debut, and that aspect of her craft has remained intact. But this time they're part of a much fuller tapestry. Producer Gerard Kiely has brought together a rich backing for Turner's vocals, with James Delaney's organ often leading proceedings.

That rich backing is best evidenced in a re-recording of "Dr. Fell,"  a reworked version of the opening track from Pizza. This time around its more about swirling 60s organ sounds than acoustic guitar and the transformation suits the song. The first single, "Take The Money and Run" is also lushly arranged, resulting in a great, breezy pop song. Ironic, really, given that the lyrics are dismissive of the cult of celebrity.

The more laid back side of Turner's music is still in evidence, from the careful textures of "Rough Lion's Tongue" to the gently acoustic "Theatre for the Broken" and "Belfast Central." The result is a well rounded record which more than shows why Juliet Turner is considered one of Ireland's most promising artists.

James Stewart 06/21/2000

 

   
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