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Queen Secret Keeper
Artist: Judie Tzuke
Label: Big Moon
Times: 12 tracks/65:58 minutes

Judie Tzuke is definitely not a newcomer to the popular music scene, but her style seems to have reinvented itself after well over 23 years.

The first attempted question I have from friends is "Who is this Judie..." and then they stop when they see her last name. It's pronounced, "ZOOK." She's a lyricist's lyricist, and her big break was in 1978 on Elton John's Rocket Records label, Welcome to the Cruise with the U.K. megahit "Stay with Me Till Dawn." Over the years, Judie and her bands meandered between record companies (one asked her to re-record her megahit). Taking the bull by the horns, she simply began her own record company, marketing her recordings by the Internet.

Now, it seems as if Judie has come full circle in her recording career and genre of music. After her debut full-length recording, Tzuke flirted with the identity of "rock chick" with the turn of the decade, specifically from Sportscar through the Live Bootleg stage of her career, where her lovely, ethereal-quality voice was superimposed over heavy guitars. If you're familiar with this era of Tzuke and want that style from her lately, you will be disappointed. If you enjoy her first recording, Welcome to the Cruise, Queen Secret Keeper will be an incredibly enjoyable experience.

I've always liked Tzuke's lyrics, as they often hit me from left field. From one of the brightest musical moments, "Breathless": "You leave me breathless, lost and loveless; Darlin' you're my compass; without you I'm homeless." That's a familiar Tzuke-ism, to use "homeless," where most songwriters would simply say "lost." Another example is from "One Minute":

 If I had one minute of my life
 I'd give it to you for free...
 Cause I know in you is the other half of me
 And who knows, maybe the circle is the key for free....
 Round and round the circle is unbroken;
 I don't know where you begin and I end....
Judie Tzuke has always dealt wittingly with relationships, and every song is lyrically strong and arresting, just like a good policeman!

She's also firmly escaped from the clutches of the "rock chick" stigma in a smartly produced project by David P. Goodes, who adds guitars, arrangements, and simply the most sonically pleasing recording Judie Tzuke has ever offered. Envision a mesh between the jazz-oriented side of Steely Dan and George Benson, and that's close to what this project sounds like. Definitely a weakness for this project: if Judie's going to move in this direction, I want a trumpet on a couple of these songs (e.g. "1 2 3" and "Do You").

There are two standouts worth noting. Notwithstanding excellent lyrics, "Drive" has an arrangement that is as intense as a cat with all its muscles stiffened, and BBC announcer Bob Harris' voice from the "radio" helps merge the energy into the next track. Perhaps the best song, "Lion," a song about the strength love gives, is built around an arrangement that sounds incredibly like "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles, not stealing an arrangement but borrowing on that idea and actually improving (gasp!) on something the Fab Four did.

From the country of the Fab Four, Judie Tzuke is on the right track. There is still plenty of room for improvement, as Judie has offered her most versatile and interesting project in her still escalating 23-plus-year career.

Olin Jenkins  11/23/2001


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