Intimate Songs of Sadness Delivered Beautifully and Intricately.
A couple of years ago one of my favourite ‘intimate’ gigs was when I saw a Juanita Stein gig at The Cluny in Newcastle; and even stranger was the fact that it was her record that was being played on local radio as I parked my car that night.
The 4 Howling Bells albums made with Juanita and her twin brothers, Ari and Joel were all excellent indie releases and they had built up a solid following after re-locating to Brighton from Sydney; when in 2012 she started work on her first solo album before the release of ‘America’ and ‘Until The Lights Fade’.
To further demonstrate her ability she assisted with vocals on The Sleepy Jackson album – another very good offering IMHO.
Her latest release is heavily tinged with sadness after the sudden death of her father with AML but that sad event is now a taper to light her way through an album that she describes as ‘littered with symbolism’ as the songs featured are dashed on instant reflections – a dream of a relative, a crow outside a hospital room, a toy snake etc – all minor but the birth of an idea leading to a song.
Her very soft and gentle voice glides through the opener ‘1,2,3,4,5,6’ about the ability to take risks after due consideration of the effects of the decision. She admits that writing the songs for ‘Snapshot’ came thick and fast, leaving her with a load of demos to turn into the finished article.
The opening notes of ‘L.O.T.F’ take the listener straight into a catchy number dealing with ‘being raised in the land of the free and needing to hear the blackbirds‘. A bluesy rocky number with a tremendous guitar backing.
The tempo is eased off with ‘Lucky’ as she questions if she is mentally tough enough to deal with the changes in her life – ‘that’s your life as darkness is followed by rage’.
A shout from the heart of the situation she suddenly found herself in.
‘You are a snapshot of my life – only a photograph remains’
in the title track where the loss is most vocally well handled.
Out of sadness comes some light, as part of a snapshot of her mind. ‘Hey Mama’ does what it says in the track as she ponders her search for how her Mama feels but maybe they can sing the blues together.
If I am giving the impression this album is a very sad one, I have to stress that it is, the overall theme of the album is sadness; but the songs are delivered with a beautiful voice and even I hadn’t really appreciated that voice until I saw her sing .
If you sound better or as good live as on record a gig goer can’t ask for any more than that.
A favourite track?
That would probably be ‘Mavericks’, a song that benefits from her full range and the following track ‘The Reckoning’ takes her into the upper reaches to emphasise that the reckoning is inevitable, with the heavy guitar backing adding to the importance of meeting ‘The Reckoning.’
The final tracks ‘Take It Or Leave It’ dealing with the choices you have in her position leaving you ‘dancing with the unknown’ and ‘In The End’, an upbeat finale that regardless of what fate deals us we have to not ‘lose our heart as we all lose someone in the end’
I have to admit I am a lover of female singers; and Juanita has produced a lovely little set despite the sad events that brought it all about.
Out of that darkness has come what I feel is her best album to date, by some way.
A fine tribute to her father.
Juanita is assisted here by her brother Joel on lead guitar, Jim Wheelwright on bass and Evan Jenkins on drums and it would be wrong of me not to recognise their importance in getting the listener to take notice of the loss and to make sure of a better future.
The album was recorded over an 8 month period at Agricultural Audio near Brighton, although her previous albums were from USA studios.
The change was worthwhile.
Again, let me stress that although the grain of an idea began with sadness this is not a sad downbeat album. The theme is sad but the delivery of the whole package is the complete opposite.
Get those live gigs at The Cluny and invite her along asap.
Review: Bill Redhead
Released October 23rd 2020
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY