CD Review of Sunday Morning in Saturday’s Shoes by Richard Julian
Recommended if you like
Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett,
Freedy Johnston
Label
Manhattan
Richard Julian:
Sunday Morning
in Saturday’s Shoes

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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W
ith his first two albums, 1997’s Richard Julian and 1998’s Smash Palace, Julian established himself as a sort of urban-flavored Jim White – the kind of guy who could tell a story, sure, but was just as interested in continually readjusting his sonic palette for effect. This approach won him plenty of critical praise, but did nothing for his sales, to the point that 2002’s Good Life wound up coming out as a self-released effort. It was something of a shock, then, to see Julian bob up on Manhattan’s roster in 2005 – and even more of a shock to hear the relaxed, wittily observational pop songs that came pouring out of the speakers, track after track after track. It was one of the year’s best albums, and even if it didn’t really improve Julian’s commercial profile, it earned him more buzz than he’d enjoyed since his debut – and it didn’t hurt that he picked up a gig as one of Norah Jones’ touring sidemen. (The Jones association eventually bore further fruit with the Little Willies, the Willie Nelson-coverin’ combo that was easily one of the most blog-friendly country records of ’06).

It goes more or less without saying, then, that expectations are high for Sunday Morning in Saturday’s Shoes. With his last set of songs, Julian often sounded like Lyle Lovett singing unheard gems from Randy Newman’s vaults. How would he be able to improve on that?

The short answer is, of course, he couldn’t. Slow New York frequently used its soothing piano-lounge arrangements as a cloak for Julian’s sharply barbed lyrics; Sunday Morning, in comparison, is every bit as smooth on the surface, but lacks the bite that made songs such as “A Short Biography” and “Photograph” so easy to fall in love with. A handful of Sunday’s tracks – such as “A Thousand Days” – don’t do a good enough job of turning a personal story into something with universal appeal, and others – such as the title track and “Morning Bird” – never seem to work up enough energy to get where they’re going.

But is it a bad album? Absolutely not, and listeners who warmed to Julian’s Newmanisms on the last album will find at least a few new friends here. “Spring Is Just Around the Corner” skewers optimism for its own gain; “Brooklyn in the Morning” is a dreamy, pleasantly elliptical meditation on, um, Brooklyn in the morning; and “Man in the Hole” follows a refusal to change one’s mind to its ridiculously logical conclusion. The album’s highlight is “God III,” in which the lackadaisical exploits of Christ’s layabout, ne’er-do-well son are detailed to devastatingly humorous effect. (They actually parallel the upward bumbling of a certain Chief Executive, but he takes well-placed jabs throughout the album – and if that bothers you, you probably haven’t been listening to much besides Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood for the last four years, and are therefore outside Richard Julian’s target demographic.)

Call it a holding pattern, then – and as holding patterns go, not a bad one at that. After all the restlessness he displayed early in his career, Richard Julian has certainly earned the right to take a breather – let’s just hope it isn’t three years until the next album, and that whenever it comes out, he brings those barbs with him.

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