Juniper’s Kitchen is that classic of old-fashioned concept albums, an open love letter, in this case, between Canadian husband and wife duo Reid Jamieson and Carolyn Victoria Mill. Reid Jamieson has worked with and alongside artists as diverse as the Be Good Tanya’s, Sarah Harmer and the Cowboy Junkies, but this affair of the heart is personal; just him, his wife and a set of songs designed for the feel-good factor. Those songs sit somewhere in the Country-soul and pop genres, with minimal use of embellishment and an experienced eye on the arrangements. Jamieson has released various albums in the last decade, and his website showcases some of the cover material he delights in recording – clearly, he is a student of the songwriter’s craft, and it shows in the variety of styles on Juniper’s Kitchen.
Opener Drive is a lovely ballad with a travelling theme, the feeling of momentum one he returns to throughout the album. It’s repeated immediately in Rails, which is more more upbeat. This is a revised version of an older song that won Reid and Carolyn the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2013. The fragile vocal in the verse is bolstered by fiddle and picked guitar, and steps up in pace after the first chorus with a steady beat, their voices competing against the background of tiny piano runs.
Mill has an engaging voice and their harmonies are light and beautiful together. Not Making History is a jaunty slice of Country-Pop with the twang of pedal steel running under the melody. Written on Reid’s 40th birthday, it’s an acknowledgement of the passing of time and the realities of a jobbing musician. The album hits its sentimental peak on This Much I Know, which veers dangerously towards schmaltz country but is saved by an engaging melody and the genuine emotion it portrays.
If anything the second half of the album maintains higher standards than the first and from here, the diversity on offer raises the bar. The Way You Look At Me is Johnny and June’s ‘Jackson’ for the 21st Century, a speedy hoedown with some read-between-the-lines racy lyrics; ‘I love the way you look at me / Like a bathtub full of money.’
Slow Motion Kiss is led by Carolyn. It captures those heady moments of first love in an upbeat pop song that’s hard to resist. Timing Is Everything has a lovely chorus; its acceptance that circumstances are subject to luck a timely reminder that fate doesn’t have it all its own way. In a moment of solemnity, Take Me To The Sea talks in warm tones about the joy of release at the end of a life, fiddle accents and a train-rhythm percussion building in pace towards a repeated coda – think slow Irish wake rather than doom-laden funeral.
Of the remainder, we get splashes of calypso, a beautiful ballad in Fall and blunt, unrepentant words to the wise in Biggest Fan. There’s even space to acknowledge the need for regular communication in Words With You, which goes a long way to dispelling the feeling that Jamieson and Mill do nothing but coo at each other.
None of the twelve tracks on Juniper’s Kitchen outstay their welcome. They are lovingly crafted, very memorable and hark back to the duets of the 50s and 60s, when the melody, voices and sentiment were more important than the ability to layer a song with special effects, vocoders and unnecessary decoration. They’re touring across the pond right now but will be in the UK in November – if they can represent the album tracks half as well as the studio versions, any gigs they can drum up will be well worth the outlay.
The album deserves a wider audience than it is likely to receive, though you can hear the whole thing on Soundcloud without contributing to its financial success. I would, however, strongly recommend you take the plunge and purchase it – these are songs that stay with you and that you’ll want to keep; the subject matter may be the oldest in the book, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to remind ourselves why it’s such an important part of our lives.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Reid Jamieson are in the UK Nov 15-27, 2014. Check their dates here: www.reidjamieson.com/dates.htm