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  That's Life
Artist: Julia Fordham 
Label: Vanguard Records
Time: 10 tracks / 41:10

Deep with her voice that is. While it seems many soloists these days are in a Mariah Carey competition to see who can soar higher, Julia challenges baritone territory in a few of the songs on That's Life, her eighth studio release. It's quite a shock to hear her nail a chesty F below middle C at the end of the first line of the first track. Shocking because at first glance at the cd; all pastel colors from a Martha Stewart paint sample page, Julia looks like she would more likely be outfitted with airy, gossamer pipes coupled with folk acoustic guitar for accompaniment. Instead, she has a confident contralto which often hangs out in tenor neighborhoods amongst jazzy funky B3 and electric guitar.

Once settled into the idea that this is her voice, then it's time to sit back and let the songs sink in. Julia has writing credits on all of the songs on the disc, offering up some interesting word pictures and experienced humor at the same time.

The first track, 'Sugar' offers up this metaphor for finding one's love: “Sifting through the sand for sugar”. Does she mean that it's impossible to do; since grains of sugar are basically the same size as grains of sand?

Later on in the title track, she shares this with the listener: “Welcome to my movie. I have cast myself as fabulous and lonely....I demand a re-write; cut the scene out where I'm crying in the half-light, and you shoot bullets through me. Make it more like Pretty Woman meets Misery. Besides being clever wordplay, you have to give Julia props for using the word “Half-light” in a song. It's a magical word we don't often have the pleasure of hearing that conjures up the question, “Is it night or morning; evening or nighttime”?

On to the music. It would be pretty boring if the only purpose to this disc would be to feature Julia's unique voice. Fortunately, there is some righteous jazzy funk to be heard on this disc; courtesy of none other than Billy Preston (world famous B3 player), Dean Parks (contributed to many Steely Dan discs as well as being an original member of the all time best Christian fusion rock band – Koinonia), bass player/producer/husband to Joni Mitchell - Larry Klein, and another session star, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums.

Preston's B3 work was done mostly on first takes, according to the promo material, and he knows how to make the B3 sing and bring character to a song. Probably the best example on this disc is in the track, “Walking on Water”, where after Julia sings the title words, there is a descending burbly run from Billy's B3 that couldn't sound more like water unless you actually used a recording of rippling water itself.

Parks provides some cool jazz on his own; shining through in several tracks, most notably on the opening track, “Sugar”, where he, Billy and the wurly player trade smooth turns in and out of the length of the whole song. He picks up a baritone acoustic on “Perfect Me” providing an appropriately lower tuned gentle acoustic pad for Julia to weave in and out of.

All in all, this disc provides an interesting mix of styles, a universally unique voice, and top notch backing tracks and production that makes for a worthwhile spin.

Scott Lake December 11, 2004



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