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

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


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