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JUNIPER’S KITCHEN reviews
This article was first published on October 14th, 2015 on forthecountryrecord.com BY VICKYE FISHER.
Reid Jamieson is the typical busy musician, working hard on a wide variety of projects that range from Leonard Cohen, to Elvis Presley, to rap, all the way to string band music and gentle folk. However, in 2014 he ticked off yet another first: recording an album with his wife Carolyn Mill, who has been performing alongside him for many years but never officially collaborated on a record. ‘Juniper’s Kitchen’, the result of this studio collaboration, is a wonderful 12-track offering that showcases the duo’s excellent harmonies and a fondness for minimalist country, Americana and folk music. Reserved and well-crafted, even the up-tempo tracks have a quiet, relaxing charm about them.
The set opens with the gorgeous ‘Drive’, an invitation to go driving with a lover that benefits from a rather lovely melody and heartfelt delivery. ‘Rail’ follows, setting a train-like pace adorned with virtuosic fiddle, but even at its peak moments the production remains sparse and subdued, retaining the record’s sense of calm. Pedal steel laces many of the tracks while subtle drums on the likes of ‘Not Making History’ keep listeners’ attention, and the pair owe instrumental duties to Keith Rose (bass), Jon Arason (drums), Anne Lindsay (violin), John Sheard (piano, organ), Michael Holland (piano), Paul Rigby (pedal steel), Lewis Melville (dobro), while multi-talented Reid takes on many of the guitar, organ and percussion, and Sam Parton contributes background vocals on ‘Take Me To The Sea’. Carolyn, who is more of a behind-the-scenes person in Reid’s career, really comes into her own on this record with her co-writing credits on every song and delightfully rootsy, pretty vocals and harmonies.
It’s the duo’s dynamic that really makes this record a special one. In addition to writing all the tracks together, their vocal interplay is the constant focus and they often hardly need any of the other instrumentation (although it certainly adds some nice textures and points of interest). They sing love songs to each other, most notably ‘The Way You Look At Me’, ‘This Much I Know’, ‘Fall’ and ‘Words With You’, reflecting on marriage and commitment through the years. They also reveal some learned truths on the nature of life, seen in the likes of the soulful ‘Timing Is Everything’ that teaches patience and trust in fate, and the aforementioned ‘Take Me To The Sea’ that expresses a wish to return to the sea when life comes to a close. They also include a tribute to the troops on the curiously chipper, island-esque sounds of ‘Impossible Shoes’, which admittedly loses its meaning a bit when a grim lyric is given a cheerful accompaniment.
For the most part, ‘Juniper’s Kitchen’ is a feel-good record full of positive and simple narratives, set to a backdrop of gentle country, folk and roots melodies and arrangements. Their performances are pure and perfectly blended, and Carolyn in particular shines just as brightly as her established musician husband. While it is expected that she will return to behind the scenes from now on, it is a shame, and perhaps she would consider stepping out of her comfort zone once again in the future.
BC MUSICIAN MAGAZINE • MARCH 5, 2015 •
After eight solo releases this is his first singing together with Mill. It took them twelve years to get to this point, so enjoy it. It is a lovely CD. The songs have a country twinge abetted by Anne Lindsay (Blue Rodeo) on fiddle, Paul Rigby (Neko Case) on pedal steel and Lewis Melville on dobro and banjo. The harmonies can be counter-intuitive, she often takes the low harmony and he take the high. There isn’t anyone else that quite sounds like this. Lyrically there is an edge of melancholy; theirs is a great and authentic love, existing with a sense of talent not yet fully appreciated, dreams still to be realized.
Vancouver based Jamieson won the grand prize for folk in the 2012 John Lennon Songwriting Contest for the song Rail that he cowrote with his wife and longstanding writing partner Carolyn Victoria Mill. That song was originally written for a special broadcast of the CBC’s, Vinyl Café on the Rails. Jamieson has been a frequent guest on the Vinyl Café, and part of their orchestra, since 2006. Often recording with others including Sarah Harmer and Samantha Parton, Jamieson recently took part in The Cowboy Junkies project, The Kennedy Suite, which was long listed for the Polaris prize. For some reason he is hard to write about without turning into convoluted run on sentences.
In part, Jamieson’s reputation is built on his uncanny ability to take other people’s material and make them sound like his own songs, without loosing the sense of the original. When you click the Reido Radio button on his website it will take you to a selection of about 45 of his covers. Play ‘em all.
FOLK RADIO by Paul Woodgate 14 October, 2014
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.
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