Juanita Stein – America
Nude – 28 July 2017
Following on from brother Joel’s solo project, Glassmaps, it’s now the turn Juanita Stein, singer and guitarist with Australian ex-pats Howling Bells, to release a solo album which has been gestating for some five years. It isn’t too great a departure from the band’s sound, or at least that on the last album, Heartstrings, in that it leans heavily on the empty desert country Americana with its brooding echoey twang-some guitars and dry, dusty atmospherics, established from the start with opening number Florence.
The song’s a tribute to Florence Owens Thompson, the migrant mother and subject of Dorothea Lange’s famous 1936 photograph of the Great Depression, and, as such, underscores the album’s lyrical and thematic in America’s history and the imagery of the American Dream with its characters real and imagined.
Dark Horse is another Western-influenced number, the cinematic sound evoking thoughts of Dimitri Tiomkin. Elsewhere, the influences of Patsy Cline (the two step waltzing Cold Comfort, written by her father, Peter), the softer side of Lee and Nancy (a breathy I’ll Cry) and even Roy Orbison (It’s All Wrong) ring clear. On the melodically tumbling Someone Else’s Dream you might even find yourself thinking of Zooey Deschanel.
Several numbers find her adopting a breathy, slurringly sensual delivery, dreamily so on Stargazer and the appositely titled Shimmering. She offsets the moody, riff prowling Black Winds with a distant ghostliness, a languid haze that also permeates the narcotically slow Not Paradise with its nods to both David Lynch and the slow dance torch burners of the 30s and 40s.
Introduced with a glissando sweep on the harp and again with perhaps a hint of David Lynch, Blue Velvet era, the title track ends the album on the same dusty widescreen notes that it began, on the open road in search of hope, dealing with loss as it travels through America’s dark heart. You might care to share the journey.