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Restless Night by Julianna Raye (Review)

These are haunting ballads that conjure up smoky, rundown LA nightclubs you only see in David Lynch films.
Restless Night - Julianna Raye

Now, this one here was quite a pleasant surprise, coming completely out of left field with few preconceptions, and managing to lodge itself firmly in my listening rotation. I tend to go through CDs pretty quickly, either at work or at home, with a constantly shifting stack sitting next to the stereo. And yet this one has not strayed far from the top of the pile. The CD’s sleeve proclaims “Easy on the eyes… hard on the heart,” and that’s not too far from the truth. These are haunting ballads, delivered with a spooky, languid ease that conjures up those smoky, rundown LA nightclubs you only see in David Lynch films.

Raye’s voice is the key ingredient here. Usually it strikes up a noir-ish quality, tickling your ears in all of the right ways with just a hint of velvet anxiety. On “New Moon,” her voice spins and twists, both enticing and fragile. “Indigo River” skips right to the seduction, as Raye sings “I’ll drink you like a lover/I will drink you ’til my thirst is gone/What if my sweet Indigo should pull me in and never let me go?” over a sultry jazz accompaniment; the song’s imagery turning a drowning tale into something quite steamy. And it doesn’t hurt that Raye’s vocals end on a coy little note, beckoning the listener to follow her into the water.

Meanwhile, “Dark Night Of The Soul” strikes up an air of desperation, despite the song’s jaunty melody. But Raye’s vocals seem so weary as she croons “Love is all a body has/And when it goes that’s the real test/Fire grows dim, flickering blue/Then it dies, leaving you.” Although Raye closes out the song with this cheery thought — “Don’t you fight it, ’cause you can’t win/The more you struggle, the deeper you’re in,” her smoky voice makes it sound oh so alluring.

“Baby Blue” finds Raye’s songwriting taking on striking similarities to that of Aimee Mann’s. Indeed, the song itself feels like a lost track from Mann’s work on the “Magnolia” soundtrack. The album closes with “Heaven (Is In Your Eyes),” which takes on a hymnal, old-timey revival quality, closing this album of haunted torchsongs on a nigh-religious note.

Although this is definitely Raye’s show, it’s impossible (and criminal) to leave out Raye’s partner, Ethan Johns, who contributed much of the instrumentation and produced the album. Johns knows the real star of this album is Raye’s lovely voice, and that’s apparent from the tasteful, restrained accompaniment he provides. His playing bolsters Raye’s singing, adding the appropriate bluesy and jazz-like tinges that both complement and enhance Raye’s voice

The result is an incredibly solid and well-done record, one that makes for a completely alluring listen. The album’s only weak point is “More Wine,” a duet with Rufus Wainwright. It almost feels like Raye and Wainwright’s vocals are duking it out, competing with eachother, and breaking the disc’s silky-smooth flow. But that one small bump aside, it’s nowhere near enough to keep me from listening to this disc again and again, especially during those lonely late nights.

It’s absolutely perfect at 1:00 or so in the morning, when your head’s hurting from too many drinks (or from staring at the computer for too long). Raye’s voice comes on, the room turns a dark shade of blue, and you imagine yourself sitting front-row at that seedy LA lounge, the air thick with hazy cigarette smoke as Raye takes to the stage to sing her tales of woe and mystery. And before too long, her voice is wrapped around you like so much silky smoke, and you’re wrapped around her finger.

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