On and Off the Record
By Michel Miller and Chris Jay 01/17/2013
Weeds Like Us
You don’t earn a pedigree like Julie Christensen’s without a high level of authenticity, and you don’t get to play the blues until you’ve paid your dues (so they say). Though she’s not a blues singer by definition, Christensen manages to convey the beauty of suffering with a subtlety that cannot be faked. It’s a quality that less-seasoned vocalists could and should learn from. Weeds Like Us opens with the energetic, playful “Restless” — an infectious R&B-flavored number that showcases Christensen’s range — then moves into more introspective territory with Dan Montgomery’s “Outside.” The album’s 12 songs vaguely repeat this pattern of trading lighthearted grit with poignant confessional, much in the rhythm of a life well-lived. The bonus track, “Another One,” is particularly emotional as it was written by Kenny Edwards, Stone Poney’s founder and dear friend of Christensen’s, who was to produce Weeds but succumbed to cancer early in the process. These days, Christensen’s career fits pretty squarely in the folk-Americana category, where a handful of other ’80s L.A. punk rock alumni also comfortably landed. Probably best known for her work with Leonard Cohen, Christensen has earned a reputation for her vocal versatility. She is indeed a force to be reckoned with and this is a record worthy of your full attention — Kleenex sold separately.
— Michel Miller
Available on iTunes and at www.stonecupid.com.
There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding this 17-year-old singer-songwriter, much of it focused on his guitar playing. Runaway Dream has all the elements of a perfect little pop album (which isn’t as easy to accomplish as it may seem) but there’s precious little guitar virtuosity (or originality) on display here and one gets the feeling Citrenbaum is playing it too safe. Whether that’s due to adult coaching — the four-song EP is produced by Jeff Trott, who co-wrote a handful of Sheryl Crow’s biggest hits — or naiveté, it’s hard to believe anything so thoroughly pleasant could come from the gut of a teenage male armed with an electric guitar. Then again, John Mayer tasted pretty saccharine before he outed himself as a real musician. Is it a bad record? Absolutely not. Citrenbaum has a nice voice, plays a lovely guitar and radiates a sensitivity that doesn’t go unrewarded in the benign cookie-cutter market that currently dominates the music industry. It’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that a song or two will be snatched up by television music managers (Parenthood, perhaps?), but beyond his fresh-scrubbed persona and well-crafted “adult contemporary” music, there has to be a Ryan Adams clawing to get out.
— Michel Miller
Available at colecitrenbaum.bandcamp.com.
Thousand Oaks’ Paul Starling plays what he describes as “nautical pop,” but Jimmy Buffett this is not. While his full-length Shipwrecked Commotion does have a boatload of water references (pun very much intended), musically it’s got more of a dreamy ’80s indie feel. Starling, a multi-instrumentalist, has a pleasant, welcoming voice and the songs are well constructed with obvious influences like Brian Wilson. Named one of the best of 2012 by David Bash (International Pop Overthrow), if there’s any downside to the album it’s that some tracks become hard to separate from the others. It’s when Starling ventures out onto dry land with jangly, sun-drenched pop songs like “Dress Me in Bowties,” “Water Levels” and “All of My Heart” that the record really shines. In the end, despite the nautical overkill, you just can’t help but like a guy who has a song titled “All the Good Looking Girls Are Dead” and Starling clearly has a bright future as an artist, as long as he doesn’t venture too far out to sea.
— Chris JayAvailable at paulstarling.bandcamp.com