One of the best album openers I’ve heard recently is “In Your Garden” on Julie Rhodes‘s Bound to Meet the Devil . Rhodes’s raspy voice intones along with a soul clap: “Go on and leave me like another weed in your garden. Nothing I can say is gonna make you stay. Don’t call me when you know the flowers are gone and your skies are cloudy & grey.” Cutting electric and oddly mic’d drums jump in, immediately in pocket; pickups growl, cymbals splash. “It ain’t wrong to want a little more sunshine,” Rhodes sings above a high voltage pentatonic riff “. . . I ain’t ashamed to want a little more rain.” She’s already on fire, she’s holding the notes just a second longer on the last syllable, the ultima rings out, the sound quivers into your ears. Julie Rhodes has the blues. She’s down in the dirt. Common as a weed, but noxious, hearty, she’s established that she’s tough, talented, and gonna be here a while; we’re 30 seconds into the song.
There’s a clever dual guitar solo, harp comes in at a high C, another verse, the song closes on a soul clap, the last note a crescendo of harmonica/guitar/drums. Julie Rhodes’s team of players understand the blues, if they don’t in fact have them outright. ’60s electric blues rolls on a bass groove into ’70s blues for the next track, “Collector Man.” Cleanly picked and pinched Telecaster chugs. Harmonica blows like a steam whistle. The drums are mic’d entirely differently. Organs chime in delicately. This is a Muscle Shoals groove. FAME Studios to be exact. Julie’s theme of digging through dirt continues with the lyrics “I’m still diggin’ my, diggin’ my, shovel deep.” With the collector man constantly calling, whether she’s diggin in to work, or further into debt is the question.
“Faith” opens with a soulful, infectious Wurlitzer electric piano grind, and Julie moaning the blues. Sounds this clear and warm have only ever been recorded in FAME studios, and with a backing choir and slide guitar, Julie sounds right at home. Legends Spooner Oldham and the FAME choir contributed to “Collector Man”, “Faith”, and “See The Sun” in magical capacity, but true to the studio bands sound they accentuate Julie’s immaculate voice and message without overriding it.
The experience of its players take from blues, to the bouncing bass line of dancehall (“Hey Stranger”), straight into funk (“Hurricane”), and on to country and western (“See the Sun”) and back to blues (“Grinnin’ in Your Face”).
Julie’s voice is always at the forefront, but just barely ahead of the band and her theme: personal and class struggle. Being behind on the bills, struggling to keep working, faith in the unseen, and faith in herself all contribute to her song writing.
Album cover and photos by Roberto Terrones.