Julie Christensen is a jazz vocalist with a very non-jazz past, who can easily win you over with her unusual delivery and choice of material.
Something Familiar begins with Jimmy Webb's obscure "Just Like Marilyn," and seems about as far away from a jazz opener as one can get. By the time Christensen segues into Frank Loesser's "Never Will I Marry," from the Broadway musical, Greenwillow, there's the feeling that good things could be ahead. A few tunes from the Great American Songbook, including Burke/Van Heusen's "But Beautiful," Rodgers and Hart's "Have You Met Miss Jones?" and Levant/Heyman's "Blame It on My Youth," may set up the listener for a lull in the album but this is not to be.
Christensen follows with a noirish version of Charles Mingus' "Orange was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk" with her own original lyrics. Mark Murphy's lyrics to the Oliver Nelson jazz standard "Stolen Moments are given a lengthy and relaxed reading by Christensen, as well as the Eddie Jefferson lyrics to Bird's "Billie's Bounce." A Christensen original, "Hard to Love," and the closer "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief"a 1940s hit from Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webstercomplete the album.
In examining Christensen's background, the Midwestern country and western swing singer relocated to Texas, then joined up with alt.punk band Divine Horsemen, and married one of its foundling members. When that relationship ended in 1987, Christensen was invited to tour with Leonard Cohen. She recorded her first, well-received album in 1996, but it gave her fans and the public little reason to suspect that she was entering a cabaret/jazz setting.
So just what is it that makes Christensen such a standout? It certainly isn't her sometimes quirky voice, which is insinuating and probing more than stentorian. Despite her lack of jazz vocal background, she does command a sensibility that allows her to provide sensuality and grace to these songs, in addition to a real R&B connectivity, evidenced by her version of the Aretha Franklin-associated "Today I Sing The Blues."
The musicians on this date represent the various styles that Christensen presents on Something Familiar. On the Webb tune, veteran pedal steel player Greg Leisz is prominently, featured while on others pianist Karen Hammack, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney and drummer Jeff Ballard are among the jazz players who kick in for this unusual and very effective album.
We don't know where she's going but we do know!
Personnel: Julie Christensen: vocals; Karen Hammack: piano; Dan Falcone: bass; Mary Ann McSweeney: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums; Kenny Wollesen: drums; Greg Leisz: pedal steel guitar; Jeff Elliott: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dr. Dave Christensen: guitar.