The Lucky Girl - Julitha Ryan (Silver Ray Productions)
“The Lucky Girl” is a seven bottle CD. This is a brilliant, fabulous record (yes, she has vinyl as well) and if there was any justice in the world she’d be making a triumphant return to Australia after touring the stadia of the USA and Europe, coming home to pack the Rod Laver Arena four nights in a row. If this were only 25 years ago, the industry would be elbowing each other with intent to get ahold of a moneymaking talent on a par with Kate Bush.
That good? Well, don’t blame me, I didn’t make it. You need “The Lucky Girl” like you need your thumbs; not having “The Lucky Girl” is the equivalent of having paws. She’s currently recording a follow-up. But why seven bottles?
Well, a five bottler is something you have to have and you’ll thoroughly enjoy. Anything above that means that you’ll return here again and again, finding new things with every listen. Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot” is like that for me, for example, and most of The Velvet Underground.
A combination of minor, piffling illnesses and time-consuming wastes have prevented me from tackling what I think of as The Stack, which is a teetering pile of CDs which require review. If this was my real job, they’d be tackled promptly; as it is, I get to them as and when I can. Sometimes the stack gets knocked over by a passing child and they all slither about… how easy it is for genius to slide beneath the sofa.
You want to know a couple of secrets? No, really, I mean, I’ve said them here before, but … first, we live in a golden age of music, and the people who think they know about music have closed their doors in favour of fees connected with old-timer stuff. The people who we thought cared about music (OK, I was 12 when I got hip to real music and what it meant, so I figured the people who put the music out must also care) turn out to care about dollars and percents, but not in such a way which allows the flood of genius to foster. Seems they’re really there to put out what they think the public want, forgetting that youth movements were kickstarted by music (and forbidden sex, clothes, drugs and booze and staying up far too late).
Second, like that industry which shapes the commercial radio and tv world, we close our doors far too easily. Bob Short made the point a few reviews ago; Steve Martin made the point in the ’70s that we get to a certain age and instead of ‘Hey! Let’s go try this NEW thing!’, it becomes (sound of big door shutting) ‘Sorry. We’re CLOSED.’ Culture is plastic, ever-changing; it is the language of our society. Ignoring it is foolish, like cutting out our soul and cauterising the hole with molten tar. We don’t notice we’ve done it, of course, anaesthetised as we are by the dictatorial commercial world.
As one of those awful Facebook quizzes told me, at heart I’m a kid, always up for discovery; sure I have favourites (many old but many from the last 15 years) but that curiosity to know, to find a new, wonderful piece of art … a new, wonderful artist … (speaking of which, I will deliberately digress and suggest that you investigate Martin Harris. By God, the man’s good)
Swiftly returning to the subject, I put on Julitha Ryan’s “The Lucky Girl” shortly after I’d reviewed two fabulous LPs, thinking that I’d just give this a brief listen before making a few notes.
I sat there, book open and unregarded, with my mouth open, for quite some time.
We are in the presence of a seriously unregarded talent here; just the opener, ‘The Preacher’, with it’s slow, forceful piano and multiple textures, matched with Ryan’s fantastic voice, is enough to convince the most hardened Detroit-esque rocker that there is life in other places after all.
No mean feat, this album; she plays piano, keys, clarinet, cello, acoustic guitar, handles vox and backing vox, horn and string arrangement and percussion… it’s like she’s Nick Cave and Mick Harvey all in one. You’ll recognise a few familiar faces in the list of musicians, tho’; Davey Creese (the Dumb Earth, The Lizard Train); Cam Butler; Brett Poliness; Andy Papadopoulos … yet for all the Australian aspects, the recording in Northcote in Melbourne, “The Lucky Girl” swaggers with European style, smarts and substance with streaks of Hazlewood and Sinatra, Spector’s ’60s girl bands and Brecht/ Weill.
“The Lucky Girl” is based around Ryan’s lyrics, yet the songs and vocals are so utterly natural it seems that the music came first, so … let’s take a peek (the lyrics only appear on the lp, not the cd). Interestingly, Ryan writes in a condensed, simple style which forces us - like the best sonnets or haiku - to read between the lines. The music drags our emotions over those linkages in the most beguiling way, too; after a couple of plays I found myself mouthing the words like incantations.
“The Preacher” opens, and with a punch-line like this, you quickly recognise who Julitha Ryan is and what she’s about;
My life is not for the faint of heart
Not for the small-minded
Not for the weak-willed
Nor the mean-spirited
Nor the good time drifters
Bruce Springsteen should hear this stuff. So should Tina Arena. Even Tom Jones and Mylene Farmer. Hell, Farnsey should come out of retirement just to cover Julitha Ryan.
I’m not here for your movers and shakers
I’ll do it on my own
Yes my heart’s on the line for a dollar
Maybe a lobster if I’m lucky
“Stars in the Sky” instantly picks us back up and drives us into the night, throbbing with anticipation. A glorious song, it’s a visceral, soaring thing; there’s so much going on here it requires repeat plays, just to get the hang of it.
“Amsterdam Spring” segues beautifully with a the sound of lapping waves, then that extraordinary voice, matched perfectly against Dimitri Kyriakou’s precise bazouki, this time she’s reminding me of “The Little Sparrow” (Edith Piaf) … Songwriters often write about love and so often, it’s lame, filled with excuses and embarrassments. However, like Pete Shelley, Ryan has the knack of the conversational lyric, confrontational yet not confronting. Here’s a snippet;
I’m no longer hurrying
I no longer care! I no longer see you everywhere
The beauty of girls doesn’t break me anymore
I am what I am and not a breath more
If that’s not a succinct, emotional statement of the rediscovery of the value of life after love gone wrong, I’ve never heard one. Speaking of loss and grief, I don’t know if you’ve heard Brian Henry Hooper’s “Oh, Brother”, one of the most harrowing songs on his first solo LP (don’t ask, just get all the man’s records) is about the loss of his brother. Differently, Ryan seems to have rejected her brother completely, and it’s a grimly gorgeous tale. From “O’Brother”.
“O’ brother what have you done/ You’re so cruel …”
The male chorus emphasises ‘both’ sides of the equation, yet also makes Ryan’s own conclusion,:“the idea of you will have to be enough for now” more powerful than ever.
As you will notice as “The Lucky Girl” continues, we’re on a journey here. There are half-refrains, no full choruses, and lead breaks are an irrelevance. We’re talking songs in the purest sense here, the soundtrack to a part of a life.
The next one, “Whirlpool”, features what I think is the most delicate, gentle use of a synth I’ve ever heard. Most keyboard nutters seem to develop Lead Guitarist’s Syndrome (ie, turn it up really loud because the punters only want to hear the guitar). Ryan has an excellent, classical sense of how instruments - and vocal emphases - can weave in and out to create the effects she wants; in this case, unravelling to the end of Side One.
At this point, I can rapture on about Side Two. But I feel, as I have so often before, that if you’re not with me now, not eager to reach for the computer and order ‘The Lucky Girl’ from this superb talent, then there seems little point in me icing the cake.
I’ll leave you with a few small points; Side Two continues down a wonderful road.
You’ll never catch me when I’m falling down
You’ll never see the way I lie to myself
You’ll never drive me when I’ve lost my key
You wouldn’t know the way I drive myself
You’ll have to forgive my contrary nature
One day it’s beautiful next day I hate you
I’ll just add that “The Lucky Girl” isn’t a CD you put on when you’re driving. This is a CD for home use, but be warned: it doesn’t matter what you’re doing when it’s playing, you’ll stop and listen, frequently. You’ll put the roast next to the bowl of cat food (God help the cat), or you’ll drop the favourite bowl you’re drying, drop your glass of champagne (you need a good champagne with “The Lucky Girl”) or some other foolish thing. If you’re looking after kids, you’ll find they’ve gone and taken a bath with all their clothes on, or shaved the cat, or …
"The Lucky Girl" is one of those rare treats which, like a backyard swimming pool on a hot day, you return to over and over. Seven bottles, Barman. Demand Julitha’s CDs and vinyl here