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Juliet Turner

Ron Sexsmith

Juliet Turner

Juliet Turner is a tall, svelte, frank and natural singer-songwriter from Tummery, Dromore, near Omagh in Northern Ireland.   Her special talents first came to light on a grand scale when she poignantly sang an amazingly touching version of Julie Miller's song Broken Things at the memorial service for the 28 victims of the terrible Omagh bombing in August 1998.   Exactly one week after the viciously tragic event, about 50,000 people gathered in the town with a population half that size to mourn the victims, hearing Juliet's lilting voice vividly portraying her honest, raw emotions as she sang 'You can have my heart if you don't mind broken things.  You can have my heart if you don't mind these tears' and 'If I give it to you, will you make it clean and wash the pain away.' Despite many requests for her to release the song, she refused until she was approached to do so for the Across the Bridge of Hope album in aid of the Omagh Fund.  

Having demonstrated her heartfelt, impressive interpretive skills by creating a perfect moment from which so many sought comfort, Juliet's talents as a singer-songwriter might have been briefly overshadowed.  She had already released a delightful album full of her own material in 1996 on the Sticky Music label, on which she writes with a painful honesty about episodes that are clearly very personal to her, yet she maintains an uncanny ability to step back and always find some poetic allegory to some general scheme of life. 

Her strongest points are most obvious perhaps as she spits out bitter anti-love anthems with catchy hooks, but she also easily conveys enormously sensitive feelings longing for a healthy romance.  She can even whip up vivid images of a situation based entirely on fiction, literally so in the case of the amazing Dr Fell, which she wrote after seeing a book in Waterstone's called I Do Not Like Thee Dr Fell, around which she sprinkled allusions to such things as the film the Bandit Queen as Dr Fell becomes a euphemism for Mr Wrong.

Dr Fell is the first song on her first album, which came about when Glaswegian musician Charlie Irvine was so impressed with her amazing songwriting--after mistakenly thinking she wrote her cover of Paul Brady's The Island--and asked her to do a demo session, which she described as disastrous.  Thankfully, Charlie's view of it was quite different and he co-produced and played on the low-budget album, Let's Hear It for Pizza.  Although she clearly has been influenced by Mary Black and admits to growing up on Dolly Parton and Hank Williams, as well as the Proclaimers, there is nothing too folky, traditional or even about this acoustic singer-songwriter's album, which is surprisingly devoid of any Christian references despite her extremely strong commitment to her Methodist faith.  Juliet, who was actually Christened Juliette but felt that was 'way too much' and thus became known as Julie all her life, did not realise that she had a voice that should be heard until her days at Strathclyde University in Glasgow (on exchange from Trinity College in Dublin), and even when she was performing at Belfast's Waterfront Hall in support of Brian Kennedy, she still had a day job at a mission with women who would have greatly disapproved of her use of the word 'arse' in her song Indian Summer--if they were aware that she sang at all.  There are few more down to earth than Juliet Turner.  She strongly believes that God is the Creator and thus all creativity comes from Him, and that thought keeps her writing freely.

The first album is gentle and calm, with highlights being the catchy Greedy Mouth ('You got a smooth body and greedy mouth and you travel hopeful despite your doubts that you are lonely and ugly, lying naked on the floor'), the amazing Beyond the Backyard about her sister's travels to America which, much like Brady's The Island, reflects the need of some Northern Irelanders to escape the Troubles--perhaps more the tiresome questions about the whole issue than the fears and bombings--but are always drawn back to their lovely homeland, and the engaging Edward, which largely proclaims that she will not marry a farmer nor can she fill the gap left by her late brother in terms of inheriting the farm and carrying on the family business. 

A particularly aurally aesthetic number is Pizza and Wine, which I seem to recall her once saying she wrote as her own (Joni Mitchell's) A Case of You.  Like many of her gentle songs, that one tells of finally succumbing to the need to trust in a relationship that is happily working out, and she sticks in a mention of her hero Brian Kennedy ('I always dreamed of waking up to singing in my ear, in fact, I used to dream of Brian Kennedy.')  She once queued when he was signing albums and gave him a copy of her own since it mentioned him, and he unsurprisingly was impressed.  He spontaneously called her onto the stage when he spotted her in the audience later in London to perform Tom Waits' I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You, the only song she knew well that was in his repertoire, and they later both released that duet, which they were able to perform together as she toured as his support act.  She has also opened for Joan Armatrading, Ron Sexsmith, Arlo Guthrie, John Martyn, Natalie Merchant, Tracy Chapman, Gabrielle, Sting, Bryan Adams, Roger McGuinn and even U2 on a special occasion, as well as sharing a billing with Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello in Kilkenny in 2001.  Juliet's innocent flirtatious style, full of fun and humour, combined with an easy interaction with any audience makes every live performance an absolute joy to witness--nay, take part in.  No one else could make an interactive version of Nancy Sinatra's Sugarland such a pleasure.

Her trademark basic underplayed tunes with complex lyrics and harsh emotions were transformed into pop songs layered with samples, saxes, strings and clarinets with the release of her second album, Burn the Black Suit, on her own Hear This! (and later EastWest) label in 2000.  Brian Kennedy, now clearly having turned the tables by becoming a fan of hers, provides backing vocals on many of the tracks, which now have an upbeat sensation created by a busy full band rather than her lonely acoustic guitar.  The single that took the local radio by storm, Take the Money and Run, a good-humoured look at touring and over enthusiastic fans--whom I always took to be those of Brian Kennedy that thought they could win him over as their own--was such a departure from her previous style that some of her fans branded it a sell-out.  Nevertheless, the song is remarkably catchy and enjoyable and no doubt greatly assisted this album going double platinum in Ireland.  It also caught the attention of Terry Wogan years later and it was added to the Radio 2 playlist for six weeks.

The first two songs are absolute gems:  the title track and Sorry to Say, with its sad references to the Omagh bombing and her father's stroke ('You can't tear the system down and you couldn't save the school children on a Saturday in a small market town') with the realisation that you cannot prevent such things no matter how much you wish you could ('Quiet fears in these darker years so we ask for quiet miracles. / Bored fool, ah you cry for the moon, then you lock yourself inside at night. / You want to die for all the lonely, this could be your last adventure, one big heroic gesture.') 

The second album includes a new take on the always enjoyable Dr Fell--although I prefer the original, as well as a fascinating live favourite in Rough Lion's Tongue, a song about a city's drag queen scene (Queen on Canal Street), an appropriately soothing song about healing with music (Theatre for the Broken--'Welcome in, all ye clumsy people, all you whose tongues are tied with cords of scorn'--although it has too much country guitar for my liking, and she braves mentioning the Scottish play by name), and the utterly heavenly Belfast Central, one of the most stunning songs of the new century, with a recurring theme for Juliet in learning to trust and relax when true love emerges ('I used to be wary of loving and I thought it would just tie me down, I'd sleep in your house with my boots on, always ready to run.')

Juliet continues to win awards as more and more people and organisations recognise her tremendous talent.  Yet one gets the feeling that, even once she gets that White Ladder break that has so far eluded her outside of Ireland, she will still remain extremely down-to-earth and be as approachable as ever.  She takes pleasure in chatting with people after her performances and, when signing albums, even if there is a queue a mile long, tends to write whole passages before adding her signature with a flourish and several x's after it.  She is a truly unique entity that anyone looking for a new rewarding experience, particularly lyrics with meaty depth on a light and crispy tune, should not hesitate to explore.

bulletListen to Samples Here: Juliet Turner Official Site
bulletListen to her moving live performance at the Omagh Memorial service here
bulletStart Here: Let's Hear it for Pizza (Sticky Music, 1996) if you prefer subdued acoustic performances, or Burn the Black Suit (Hear This! 2000) if you prefer the full sound of a band with heavier-handed production, although even those with more basic tastes will surely adore Belfast Central, Brian Kennedy's vocals and many of the fine tunes on this album
bulletRead my reviews of Juliet Turner concerts

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Ron Sexsmith

Like caviar and lobster, Canadian Ron Sexsmith is perhaps an acquired taste full of royal rewards once you have finally reached that height.   I and most of the people I have introduced to his music have fallen for him immediately, but much to my surprise, there are a few friends who are won over by him only gradually.  It is worth the pursuit of his mysterious talents even if they initially elude you, I promise.

Sexmith, like many of my favourite artists, is a bit like Mozart to so many Salieris, as he is greatly admired by Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Aimee Mann--all but one of whom he has opened for--and numerous other performers.  They recognise in him the enormous talent that, for some reason, goes unrecognised by much of the western world that would be better off exposed to the uplifting, reassuring beauty of his songs.

He is master of the quick, catchy ditty containing remarkably perceptive and wonderfully crafted lyrics.  His many dozens of magnificent songs cover a myriad subjects that imply through their captivating brilliance that no one has ever approached them before.  His love songs are nothing typical, and his wound-licking songs are far from depressing; they are inspirational.  He perceptively portrays pictures of a fleeing battered wife (Cheap Hotel), the troubled child of a suicidal mother (Strawberry Blonde), a heart that can tolerate no more breaks (Foolproof), a special young man facing ignorant ridicule (Speaking with the Angel), the hopelessness of an elicit affair (Nothing Good), the unrequited passion of a crush (Secret Heart), the air of grief and expectancy in a graveyard (Pretty Little Cemetery), the momentary joy that an unexpected sight can bring to the dull routine of the day (Clown in Broad Daylight), a cynical realistic take on love songs (These Days), and numerous convincing tunes promising that better things await you around the corner.   

On his latest album, Cobblestone Runway (which includes vocals on one remixed track by Chris Martin--who sounds remarkably similar to Sexsmith), a track that took time to grow on me, as its 70s funk rhythm is not my scene, is the almost autobiographical Dragonfly on Bay Street.  It describes how Sexsmith was a foot messenger working in Toronto until he came across a dragonfly amongst the high rise buildings and realised that he was as out of place as the insect, having taken a wrong turn somewhere.  Thank goodness for us that he dropped that dead-end career to pursue this more difficult one, bringing so much hope and beauty into the lives of those who hear his marvellous music.

Self-effacing Sexsmith excels at gentle ballads but can just as easily dish out a foot-tapping rock song with his band.  His lyrics are the epitome of intelligent wit and have the power to turn worlds around, his gentle, positive philosophising poetry transforms the most defiant pessimist into a purring survivor, and I speak from experience.  I personally related perfectly to 'Even the longest night will lead you to daylight' from April After All, but there are so many brilliantly constructed phrases throughout his songs from which to choose.  

If your tastes are for singers who can hit every high note and achieve perfect pitch by singing emotionlessly, you should head for a site that celebrates Mariah Carey and fellow Canadian Celine Dion.  Undoubtedly, their voices can accomplish a lot in terms of reaching a variety of notes, but they lack soul and make me want to rip off my ears before nodding off from boredom.  Ron's voice, on the other hand, exudes character and emotion, it touches your heart and stirs feelings you refused to acknowledge before hearing him.  So many of his songs, brilliant constructions that they are, would sound 50% emptier if anyone else ran their voice over them.  Only Ron's quivering emotive vocals can carry them to their goal.

bulletListen to Samples Here: (watch videos, including Gold in Then Hills featuring Chris Martin of Coldplay)
bulletStart Here: Other Songs (Interscope Records, 1997)--although every album is a joy
bulletRead my reviews of Ron Sexsmith concerts

Copyright 2003 by TC. All rights reserved.

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