Richard Julian

Smash Palace

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It used to be that if an artist was billed as a "singer/songwriter" you could pretty accurately predict what his or her material would sound like: mostly acoustic, more wordy than musical, the lyrics self-consciously literate and/or solipsistic, sometimes insightful but often merely clever. Richard Julian does a pretty good job of blowing away such grim expectations -- he's a rocker, and he's also a songwriter of rare invention and charm. You can trip over your own invention and charm, of course, and he doesn't always pull it off. But he sure does pull it off a lot, and he does it mostly by emphasizing the music. The James Brown horn line that opens "Big Big World" and the jazz flute that gives a vague whiff of beatnik jazziness to "Pussycat," both reveal a man who understands that the words can't come first. Not that the words are disappointing -- he's able to redeem the threadbare conceit of a "restless sea" by couching it in the lines "This continent's just an island/If you don't get too specific/All roads lead to the restless sea." He also points out to his dream bride that the person complaining about their August wedding is from her side of the family, which is the kind of nice homely detail that makes the difference in a song about a wedding. And the funky, jumpy music gets better every time you hear it.

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