What has happened to the folk singer…the real singer/songwriter? They seem to have lessened dramatically with the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Steve Forbert, and Pete Seeger virtually gone. Other than the occasional Bruce Springsteen foray into classic folk and the still current output of Canadian folkies Bruce Cockburn (whom Julian sounds amazingly like) and Gordon Lightfoot, there is little out there that is real. If there is, we don’t know about them. But we should. It’s why I’m writing this review.
I attended a Madeleine Peyroux show in Malibu, CA and the opening act was a refreshing folk singer by the name of Richard Julian. Although he performed an abbreviated set, I can tell you one thing, he commanded my full attention. After a little digging, I discovered that he had a current album on Manhattan Records (EMI) and so, a major label is obviously paying attention too. But then, there is little to dislike about Richard Julian and his music.
On his 4th effort, Slow New York, there are 14 songs that underscore a natural ability to communicate with a precision and a keen insight to flash relationships (“Making Movies”), attention to mortality (“If a Heart Breaks”), and disintegrating relationships (“Seven Shades of Blue”). There’s a thread of loneliness that runs through many of the songs (a trait that is the unfortunate food of man and usually expressed best by singer/songwriters, Richard Julian no exception).
There are great songs on this album that include “End of the Line,” a look at our impatience in a maddening deluge of growth and anger. On “Damn,” he enlists the help of one Norah Jones, whose Wurlitzer playing sounds amazing in this song. She also shows up as a background vocal on “Don’t Wait Up” and “Making Movies.” Truth is, there’s not a bad song on this album; I’m not so sure that Richard Julian knows how to make one of those. And if he does, I haven’t heard them.
I’m hoping that, with repeated exposure, brilliant artists like Richard Julian eventually make their way back to the front of the class. Artists like Richard Julian are rare; they’re insightful and a wonder to listen to. We can then enjoy a renaissance of meaningful music once again.