There’s quite a story behind singer/songwriter Juliana MacDowell and her new album, Leaving Home, her sophomore effort.
The album was produced by British producer-turned-Key West studio owner, Ian Shaw, who has worked with Primal Scream, The Mekons, The Platters, Super Furry Animals and Nick Heyward (Haircut 100) over the years. It will be released by new indie label, Conch Town Music and features guitarist Matt Backer (Elton John, Julian Lennon); keyboardist Ericson Holt (The Mavericks) and bassist Claire Finley (“Playing for Change” project).
Juliana’s songwriting explores relationships and the sharp emotional contrasts that remain inextricably linked to the human condition. She reflects, “My heart has known some very dark moments, but there is always the light to counter the dark. We all have those times when the balance is off and we endure more dark days than light ones.”
Splitting her time between Virginia and Florida, MacDowell performs frequently while juggling songwriting and the myriad tasks of promoting a band. She also squeezes in the occasional house renovation job – her career and passion of choice before coming to music as a profession. “It feels as though design, renovations, writing songs and singing all come from the same well of creativity, which gives me a great deal of joy.”
After an early life divided equally between ecstatic experiences on her grandparents’ country estate and a shocking amount of personal loss, Juliana MacDowell emerged with a great deal of anxiety, which her love of music helped her battle.
Inspired by her great grandfather, who played numerous instruments and composed music, Juliana began singing at an early age, exploring her musicality in the vast music room and in the barn on the family farm, which she remembers as having incredible acoustics.
Juliana never gave serious consideration to a career in music. Facing insecurities about her musical prowess and stage fright, she reserved her participation to background roles in church singing groups. She also channeled her creativity into a successful house renovation career. “Performing for others was a dream I never thought I’d realize due to the anxiety that held me back for so long. But I’m living my dream right now. And it doesn’t matter how large or how small the stage, as long as I’m connecting with people through music, I’m happy. Music itself is healing, whether we are doing the playing, or the listening; it’s all good.”
Juliana’s guest appearances in C.W. Colt’s “Songwriter Concert Series” got her noticed on the Southern music scene: ”I am exceedingly blessed to be able to spend time in Key West with incredible musicians and a fabulous producer who inspire me.”
The bounciness of “I Like” is a perfect way to open this collection; it has a “classic” country-pop vibe; the sound is both warm and understated with some fluid guitar lines and Ms. MacDowell’s voice isn’t covered or disturbed by effects; “Turn It Back Around” has a groove and Ms. MacDowell’s vocal delivery is downright sexy and flexes with power – solid harmonies and taut playing makes this track outstanding, while “What More Must I Say” rolls along in a breezy fashion, with that kind of “remember when?” lyric and some very sweet pedal steel runs. “In The Dark” can be hears as the “radio hit” (I know – a novel concept that no longer really exists); it has all the right elements – catchy, singalong-able and well-structured; “Cruel Woman” goes right back to late ’50’s/early ’60’s honky-tonk, with the title track closing the album in a poppy and upbeat manner (and a deliciously bold brass section joins the fun).
Full marks have to go to Juliana MacDowell and the fine players who helped create this 11-song collection; it’s an album that can easily find its way into my own rotation, but more importantly, stay with me for the duration. Check it out and see if it will do the same for you, because I think it will.
Leaving Home is currently available