Julie Roberts

Julie Roberts

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Julie Roberts Review

by Johnny Loftus

It would have been a snap for Luke Lewis and the Mercury braintrust to craft Julie Roberts into a contemporary country songbird and smother her in gooey, soulless gloss. Instead, Roberts' eponymous debut never overdoes anything, relying on an easygoing ramble instead of running the Music City hat race. Roberts is beautiful, to be clear about it. But in her choice of song and style of singing, the South Carolina native keeps things gorgeously simple. "Aw, this old thing?" her bluesy phrasing says. But there's also a wink, like she knows just how good she is. Opener "You Ain't Down Home" takes a flashy city boy to task, and showcases Roberts' Bonnie Raitt sass. It also establishes guitarist Brent Rowan's evenhanded production, which allows for a marketable studio sheen, but lets the grit get through, too. The snare is crisp, the guitars ride shotgun, and the background vocals of Wes Hightower (and Vince Gill on a couple of tracks) are full of warmth. Delbert McClinton stops by as a supporting vocalist, too, riffing on the nothin' but each other story line in the fun country rocker "No Way Out." Roberts is great on the single "Break Down Here" -- she moves the track along with a mixture of anger and hope, and sells its desperation better than Trace Adkins did on his Comin' on Strong record. Her twangy vocals set the songs' scenes throughout the album, with support from whatever instruments are needed to make the mood work. In "Pot of Gold," an accordion lends a cheery storybook lilt to Roberts' romantic contentment. However, a few songs later she's sleeping in her makeup and talking to the bottle, hooking up with a stranger and waking up older, missing the one she really loves. There's a little of Shelby Lynne's achy resignation layered into Julie Roberts' music, even if the surface is accessible as Faith Hill. The melancholy ballad "Rain on a Tin Roof" could've exploded with keening strings and enormous, fluttering-hand singing. It never does. Rowan's quiet soloing supports Roberts and Hightower's harmony as an introspective piano mirrors the song's downpour patter -- the song's self-control is admirable, and emblematic of the offhanded determination of Julie Roberts' wonderful debut.

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