Sister of Mercy

Julie Christensen’s Impassioned Musical Crusade

by Brett Leigh Dicks

Julie-Christensen.jpgIn the studio recording Julie Christensen’s new album, producer Tom Lackner raised his arms in exhilaration and guitarist Joe Woodard smiled coyly from a resting place against the studio wall. For the past few hours, the pair had been trading instrumental scrutiny on Christensen’s latest recording, the gestation of which the Headless Household colleagues are currently overseeing. The song in question was a rousing country-tinged composition called “Finger on the Trigger,” and its ringing guitar lines are as inflicting as its lyrical barbs. While Lackner dialed back the recording’s vocal track, Christensen swiveled around and refocused her attention on the music. In an instant, she was bellowing out her impassioned vocals across the latest edit.

For these three musicians, this recording has been a labor of love. At the core of the project resides an unwavering belief in its purpose, though because of other commitments, the trio has been getting together between other undertakings. Lackner squeezes sessions in his studio between other recording commitments. Woodard, when not working on his own music, is committed to presenting noteworthy artist endeavors here in town. And Christensen, a long-serving vocal colleague of Leonard Cohen, is currently touring with Hal Willner’s Cohen tribute concerts. She also has a role in I’m Your Man, filmmaker Lian Lunsen’s recent cinematic exploration of Cohen and his music.

As fate would have it, Cohen-related endeavors loom large in the coming week’s artistic calendar. UCSB Arts & Lectures presents an encore screening of I’m Your Man at Campbell Hall on the evening of Wednesday, October 18, and Julie Christensen will be taking the stage at SOhO on Monday, October 16 to celebrate the release of her new album, Something Familiar. And though Something Familiar and the unreleased album in the works will both unleash Christensen’s vocal prowess, the performances are very distinct. Something Familiar contains tunes from the songbooks of Jimmy Webb, Charlie Parker, and Frank Loesser, while the untitled record-in-progress is all originals.

Just like these magical covers, their conveyor also yearns for an audience. “As an artist, I don’t think you ever lose the desire to get heard,” offered Christensen in a whisper from her perch in the studio. “That’s really what gave rise to Something Familiar and it’s what music has always been about for me. It doesn’t matter whether I was touring the world and dueting with Leonard Cohen on ‘Joan of Arc’ or singing ‘Swinging on a Star’ in an a capella group. For me it all comes from the same place. It’s all about the music. It’s all about communicating. And it’s all been part of the same incredible journey.”

But Christensen’s current musical voyage isn’t her first notable undertaking. She has fronted the infectious swamp rockers Divine Horsemen, a band that blazed its way out of the L.A. music scene forged by the likes of X. She has sung with musicians as diverse as Iggy Pop, Steve Wynn, Melissa Manchester, k.d. lang, and Van Dyke Parks. And, having performed as a vocalist on Leonard Cohen’s last two world tours, she was the perfect choice for Hal Willner’s series of Cohen tributes, performing alongside the likes of Nick Cave, Teddy Thompson, and Beth Orton.

While these outside projects afford Christensen the chance to display her prowess as a vocalist, her talent shines brightest on her own recorded endeavors, about which she has quite a sense of humor. “I started writing this recording around the time of the last election,” explained Christensen, “and there was one song that I asked Leonard Cohen to help me write because he was the only person I knew who could give it the weight that it deserved. I told him the opening line, which is ‘Between my thighs, is all my country,’ to which he responded, ‘I can’t help you there, darling. You got yourself into this one. You’re on your own.’”

But not all was fun and games. “Then the election happened and all these songs just came out,” Christensen said. “The last time I had been that creative was when I was dumped, and that’s how the election made me feel. I really felt like a jilted lover.” It may have been a heartbreak for Christensen, but I think she would agree that it was well worth the effort, as the album is truly a beauty.

4•1•1 Julie Christensen plays SOhO on Monday, October 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 962-7776.

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