On Eponymous Debut, 15 Year Old Juniper Teams Up With Marshall Crenshaw & Mark Spencer (ALBUM REVIEW)

Fresh, unaffected and openly vulnerable, Juniper sounds like she recorded this debut album of hers in one prolonged flash of inspiration (or a rush of them). In that sense, the work of this precocious fifteen-year-old resides in the great tradition of studio spontaneity favored by icons such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young, while the dual images on the front cover reflect and reaffirm its purposeful ambiguity. Echoes of her female forebears (Go-Go’s, Fanny) may come to mind at times, but this is music captured in the defining moment(s) of the collaboration(s) therein and is thus imbued with tangible personality.

All the more impressive is the fact this independent recording incorporates a full complement of musicians and singers on all dozen tracks. And while not all of those names are highly recognizable, those of most note include Marshall Crenshaw, who plays the sparkling guitar solo on “Best Kept Secret,” long-time Son Volt collaborator Mark Spencer, with his twisting turning foray on the fretboard for “Sticking With My Henry” and Stephen Goulding, staunchly in place as the drummer albeit far removed from his position on the kit in Graham Parker’s best backing band ever, The Rumour. 

Effectively mobilizing such varied sources of musicianship proceeds from the performances of Juniper herself. In songs like “The Dragon Coaster,” she brings a knowing air to singing that projects a palpable sense of lost innocence, but there, as it proceeds from directly from her delivery, the naivete fades with the track itself. Songs from like-minded independents including Tommy Dunbar (Rubinoos), Kim Shattuck (the Muffs) and Francis Macdonald (Teenage Fanclub) coexist here with material composed by Michael Shelley; the father of the artist (and himself a musician of note on his own and by association), he (no doubt proudly) plays various instruments here and co-authored “Girls Just Want A Boy to Rest Their Head Upon” with his gifted offspring.

If at times, the sentiment in the latter tune sounds more than a little ironic, there are moments it sounds almost sarcastic too, not to mention dismissive. But there’s a kernel of truth and genuine emotion here too: Juniper isn’t trading in polemics anywhere, but she makes an implicit statement or two about gender preconceptions nonetheless, even if the casual air may belie such interpretations. As often as not, with the brevity of cuts like “Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys!,” she and her accompanists resist any temptation to belabor the point(s) and thus extend the track much beyond the two-minute marks (and they sometimes go even less than that in the case of “Poke Your Eye Out” with its Farfisa and flamenco touches). 

The economy of arrangement and lack of affection in the singing and playing here is worth taking purely at face value. But the fact Juniper was mastered by famed Grammy Award-winning engineer Greg Calbi (Dylan, Springsteen) almost but not quite gives the lie to its surface informality. The man who applied his technical expertise to Blood On The Tracks and Born To Run provides the proverbial finishing touch(es) to a piece of work that will hopefully be just the inauguration of a long and esteemed career. 

Related Content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide