Monday, July 03, 2006

Julie Roberts- adult, depressed and proud of it

At a mere 27 years old, Neil Young released the song "Heart of Gold," adding a complaint that he was 'gettin' old' (wonder how he feels about that now, over 30 years later). At the same age now, country singer Julie Roberts (Mercury Nashville) sings "Too Damn Young" ('to know any better') as if her youth were decades behind her. Like Young, she's got an obsession with age.

But Roberts also has a special gift known to few artists- she can make good country music without popping it up too much and do it from a grown-up perspective. Lucinda Williams is one of the few performers who also has this gift.

Her second album, Men and Mascara, is notable also because this South Carolina native doesn't feel the need to play up her country credentials (except maybe on "Chasin' Whiskey"). It's also impressive that she's taking on more and more songwriting duties, including the defiant middle-finger to her ex, "First To Never Know" (as in "you'll be the..."). The title track is about two things that run and sounds like it's a report from someone who's been around the track many times, not some lovelorn teen. Ditto for the banjo-led "Girl Next Door" even though it's supposed to be set in high school where she jealously fumes over the beautiful slutty homecoming queen- Roberts is only in the marching band by comparison as the GND in the title and stands as a lovely anthem for all the wash-outs and wanna-be's who'll never get brass rings without asking for them. Even "Chasin' Whiskey" has a nice conceit to it- she's chasing her booze with her love interest instead of another drink. Again, not a teenybopper past time but more suited for a grizzled bar fly. And it doesn't get much more bitter "Lonely Alone" where she doesn't want anyone's company to get over her lovesick blues.

Admittedly, she does get kind of mawkish at the end about her mama and chasing rainbows and another song she co-wrote about her romantic longing (she wants skies of blue but to her credit she also starts the song longing for medication). But her been-through-the-ringer stance that she takes up before that is very winning. If she gets any more down and out, she might just make a great depressing masterpiece.


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