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Julian Kelly: “Alive” – Her language is at once colloquial and complex

“Alive” is Julian Kelly’s third album. It centers on what it means to be alive—the compromises that have to be made, the loss which must be endured, and the resilience required to simply exist in a society such as ours. Julian, born in Baltimore, Maryland was placed for adoption soon after birth, and has been searching for her biological parents since the age of 12. She filmed a documentary called “Almost Family” which explores many facets of adoption, and also released the music CD “The Family Reject” which sold thousands of copies worldwide.

The album “Alive” is a powerful affirmation of Julian’s existence despite all of life’s difficulties. Foremost, her voice throughout the album is strong, expressive, and varied. From the opening notes of “Fish of Plenty” to the piano-driven closer “Generations Drowned” this album is a mystical journey into the life of one of a most elegant songwriter. The songs here don’t grab you instantly, but beckons you to listen closely and discover new meaning in its words and sounds each time.

Julian’s capacity for lyrical expression is so sophisticated that some might tend to overlook the miracle of her music. Yet she possesses a rich musical vocabulary of her own invention, consisting of complex chords, idiosyncratic syncopations, distinctive vocal harmonies, textural soundscapes and spacious melodies.

The album is self-produced with an artist’s sensibility. Each soulful syncopation is complemented by delicate dabs of paint-tapestry drums, keyboard swells, guitar strums, and stacked vocals harmonies hovering in and around the edges.

Like the legendary singer-songwriters who came before her, Julian understands the value of space in music-eschewing sustained chords that bleed over many measures to savor and mingle the colors in a delicate sonic dance. Her smoky vocals, confident and strong, etch the lyrics like etching cream on glass.

These are songs that require and reward repeated listening, as she mines fresh melodic territories, liberating her organically-induced tunes to twist and turn in unexpected directions. Her language is at once colloquial and complex, compacting observations with stunning economy.

She is at her lyrical best on songs such as, “Generations Drowned”, “The American Dream”, and “At The Table”, while vocally she shines on the more fully fleshed out arrangements like, “Mission To Achieve”, “What Happened In The Dark” and “Bobby”.

To be honest though, most of the melodies are unforgettable, and the arrangements are brilliant. Julian Kelly’s voice and lyrics are uniquely hers. Each and every song carries emotional weight and, seemingly effortlessly, wins you over with a delicate sense of melody and wistfulness, and much wit.

She delivers personal confessional songwriting just as much as she investigates and describes the world she sees around her. But Julian’s songs are somehow always about her, about her experiences.

And perhaps better than many songwriters of our era, she’s brilliant at zooming in and out of songs, presenting the big picture by showing the tiny, intimate details. There are few songwriters who write songs like these anymore, and that she’s still doing it is a reason to rejoice.

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