Album Reviews: Slow New York by Richard JulianRichard Julian is one of those guys who's always this close to writing a great song. At his best, his prickly New York folk-rock bristles with wit and intelligence, but at his worst, he's capable of the kind of preciousness that would make James Taylor cringe. Too often, he veers between these two extremes within the same song, undermining his own brilliance with labored rhyme schemes and unconvincing stabs at soulfulness.
Julian continues to fall prey to these weaknesses on his latest, Slow New York, which is especially unfortunate because it's the best-sounding album he's ever recorded. This is thanks partly to Julian's own increasingly assured vocals and guitar work, but also thanks in no small part to sympathetic production and outstanding support from the likes of Nashville producer/bassist Brad Jones and that doyen of the New York music scene, Norah Jones, who co-produced half the album and turns in teasingly understated backing vocals on a few tracks. Where Julian's previous albums came on brash and blaring, Slow New York's charms sneak up on you, with much the same smoky blend of jazz, folk, country and soft rock that made Norah Jones' own albums such huge crossover hits.
The song best-suited to this approach is "Photograph," and it's a quiet stunner, with a haunting acoustic guitar hook, subtle strings, and lyrics that rely more on astute observation and insight than on clever use of a rhyming dictionary. (For an example of the latter, try "Don't Wait Up": "Staring out at the church/At the pigeons perched/In the eaves/Wondering what might have been/Had I not fallen in/With thieves.") Other standout tracks strain a little against the album's restrained production but nonetheless manage to shine: "If a Heart Breaks," with its slow New Orleans boogie of a rhythm, and "On Your Own," which gives the album a nicely hymn-like coda.
In between these highlights, Slow New York offers up its fair share of small pleasures and throwaway ditties ("End of the Line," a song about an irate store customer, being the most obvious example). It's par for the course for Richard Julian, who still sounds like he has a great album in him, even if he hasn't quite produced one yet. -- Andy Hermann
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