Wonderland is the third CD from the Julie July Band, and the second to feature all-original material. It also features a relatively new, expanded line-up. Apart from Julie herself on vocals, and longstanding sideman Steve Rezillo on electric guitars and vocals, this line-up includes Caley Groves on acoustic guitar and vocals; Dik Cadbury (probably best known for his work with Decameron and, later, Steve Hackett, but a widely-respected session musician) on bass, guitars and vocals; Carol Lee Sampson on keyboards and vocals; and Mick Candler on drums and percussion. They’re joined here by Catherine Harper on cello and Dan Neville on violin and viola.
It’s been interesting in the last few years to see the band’s evolution from what was essentially a Sandy Denny tribute act into one that describes Wonderland thus: “Inspired by Sandy’s work and the wider folk, rock and blues movements of the Sixties and Seventies…” In fact, the link back to the Sandy Denny playbook is perhaps less obvious than on the previous album, Lady Of The First Light: Julie’s interpretation of Sandy’s songs is always respectful, but she doesn’t try to emulate Sandy’s use of Celtic-influenced ornamentation, and while there’s more use upfront of acoustic guitar here than I remember from the previous albums, it doesn’t strike me as particularly folky (not that I have any objection to that!).
- ‘Standing On The Edge Of The World’ (Steve Rezillo) rather startled me initially with its use of close harmonies: for some reason, I was reminded of the Starland Vocal Band. It definitely works though.
- ‘Gold Dust’ isn’t, of course, the Sandy Denny song, but an attractive ballad by Carol Lee Sampson with atmospheric piano and acoustic guitar.
- ‘Till The Sun Goes Down’ (Steve Rezillo) is very much a lead guitarist’s arrangement. Steve Rezillo is a very fluent guitarist, and here moves from the sort of multi-lead fills I liked from the Eagles to a very effective 60s-70s wah-wah-accented solo (could that tower in the last verse be Jimi’s watch tower?). Suddenly I find myself missing the Cry Baby I wore out in the 70s…
- ‘More Than This’ is a song by Dik Cadbury and Pete Hicks, who’ve frequently collaborated as songwriters since they first worked together as part of Steve Hackett’s band.
- ‘Wonderland’ (Julie July & Dik Cadbury) is another interesting lyric: their Wonderland is less trippy than Grace Slick’s (or even Lewis Carroll’s), and severely dystopian.
- ‘Follow’ is another ballad by Carol Lee Sampson with a particularly attractive minor tune. Beautiful lead vocal and harmonies.
- ‘Labyrinth’ (Julie July & Dik Cadbury) opens with a clever guitar effect almost resembling Northumbrian pipes, though most of the song is more rock-oriented until it reaches the instrumental playout, showing just what a melodic bass player Dik Cadbury can be: good drumming from Mick Candler, too.
- ‘Seven Cities Of Gold’ (Steve Rezillo) has a fascinatingly oblique lyric (very 70s!) offset by guitar fills with more than a hint of Mark Knopfler. Very well performed, though.
- Lyrically, ‘Secret Deep’ (Steve Rezillo) reminds me of early electric Dylan but with a very English twist to the imagery. Interesting.
- ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ (Julie July & Dik Cadbury) features ominous organ, strings, and guitar. Very atmospheric.
- ‘Autumn Memories’ (Dik Cadbury) is a nice tune with Spanish guitar offsetting a reflective lyric.
- ‘The Last Farewell’ (Steve Rezillo) is perhaps the nearest thing here to a folky lyric, with its echoes of Longfellow’s ‘Wreck Of The Hesperus’ (which itself echoes ‘Sir Patrick Spens’), not to mention Roger Whittaker (who did sing folk songs from time to time). The arrangement, though, is light rock rather than folk.
It’s interesting that the words ‘gold’, ‘illusion’ and ‘shining’ occur in so many of the songs here, almost as if there’s a concept album trying to get out. However, although the band’s web site describes these songs as “dreamy acoustic folk to driving progressive folk rock”, don’t expect anything as folk-based as The Transports or Lark Rise To Candleford. The songs here have more in common, thematically, with a more general category of progressive rock, though without the excesses that you might associate with that term, especially if you’re as old as I am. There are no 15-minute guitar/keyboard solos or 40-piece orchestras. Instead, there’s a well-balanced set of catchy songs with imaginative lyrics, well sung, well played, and well produced, and the addition of Carol Lee Sampson and Dik Cadbury to the band has clearly expanded their range not only instrumentally, but in terms of vocal harmonies and song-writing contributions. I look forward to seeing and hearing where their journey takes them next.
Artist’s website: www.juliejuly.co.uk
‘For All We Know’ live – the closest we can get to a track from Wonderland: