Singer-songwriter Sarah Gillespie's debut album Stalking Juliet, produced by jazz legend, Blockhead and producer Gilad Atzmon, was released on Sam Productions in 2009. It came onto the British scene like a bolt out of the blue.
All the songs are, of course, Gillespie originals, with two co-written with Atzmon. Not only are the melodies eminently memorable and superior, but so are the wryly witty, often surreal, sometimes darkly so, lyrics. This is the voice of someone who has experienced a few hard knocks, no doubt, but there is no hint of self-pitying bitterness. Stalking Juliet is supremely sophisticated and definitely not "music to commit suicide by." On the contrary, there is something of a life-affirming quality here, the spirit of a fighter.
Anglo-American Sarah Gillespie matches her superior melodies and lyrics with an equally extraordinary delivery that is as searing as a nuclear furnace yet always sensitive. With Stalking Juliet she gives notice of the arrival of the undoubtedly finest singer-songwriter since Janis Joplin. Ms. Gillespie's voice displays an, if anything, even greater ballsiness than that of the latter and she combines this with a supreme, sublime bittersweet beauty in her songs. Her guitar playing is also formidable.
The sheer quality of production on Stalking Juliet also deserves mention - as smooth and polished as could be. As indeed does the superior calibre of the other musicians. Ms. Gillespie is accompanied by producer Gilad Atzmon himself (here on accordion, tenor and alto sax, clarinet and harmonica), master drummer Asaf Sirkis on drums and urdu (a kind of steel drum - not to be confused with a steel pan! - played with the hands), superior pianist John Turville, the superb Ben Bastin on electric and double bass, Billy Adamson on guitar, and Sameer Makhoul on violin and oud, with backing vocals from Emma Stockton on two tracks.
The full lyrics for all the songs are provided in the excellent sleeve notes.
An exquisite, highly compelling album, Stalking Juliet has a haunting quality that is rare in singer-songwriter albums. Sarah Gillespie is a brilliant original, as are her equally brilliant songs. Totally consistent, this album stands out miles above similar efforts. Every single song on Stalking Juliet is worth the price of admission by itself, and it would be utterly futile to try and pick any particular favourite. This is the dog's bollocks!
Stylistically, this is... well, Sarah Gillespie. Unique. There are elements here of vocal jazz, urban folk, rock, even cabaret, but it's all singularly Gillespie. In the very finest singer-songwriter tradition, Ms. Gillespie ranks right there with the greats such as Janis Joplin, Mickey Newbury, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell.
Of course, you have to catch Sarah Gillespie live to get the full effect of her incredible, searing stage presence and her high-octane, totally electrifying performance. An experience you'll never forget. But so is this extraordinary album.
Sarah Gillespie's Stalking Juliet is one of those absolutely "must-have" albums and no singer-songwriter collection could ever be complete without it, and it also firmly belongs into any good vocal jazz or contemporary jazz collection as essential. But forget "genre" baggage, Stalking Juliet needs to be in any good music collection.
© 2010 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.