Men & Mascara
ashville’s rooting for Julie Roberts. She’s been nominated twice for the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award (artists get two shots at it)—best new artist, basically—on the back of her self-titled 2004 debut, a slice of against-the-wind traditional country in ¾ time (all the better for draggin’ your honey around the dance floor all close and slow). To her label’s disappointment, the public by and large didn’t bite; Julie Roberts has been RIAA-certified gold, but I’d honestly bet you a good third of those are gathering dust, based by how many copies seem to languish on eBay and in used-record racks.
It’s easy to see why the country establishment wants Roberts to succeed. She’s got the looks of a young(er) Faith Hill with the voice of a young(er) Lee Ann Womack (with an extra dash of heartache), if you’re into that kind of industry math. She tends towards more serious songs than your typical young country ingénue. And based on her 2004 CMT special In the Moment, she’s willing to pound the pavement as hard as anyone to sell records. On the show, she hit radio stations, did in-store appearances, and sang her ass off onstage day after night after day, always smiling and being utterly polite—but with her sophomore effort, Men & Mascara, it feels like it’s back to square one, commercially speaking.
The album certainly doesn’t make Roberts sound like she’s at square one; artists with decade-long careers should be so lucky (or talented—or both) to make albums this solid. The notable exception is a hastily recorded cover of Saving Jane’s just-not-very-good “Girl Next Door,” tacked on (and annoyingly stuck in the middle of) her album at the last minute to shore up commercial concerns after first single “Men & Mascara” flopped at radio. It doesn’t work, and as much as it’d be nice to see Roberts have a hit, I hope “Girl” isn’t it, as it would definitely send the wrong message about who she is.
But, then again, maybe “traditionalist” isn’t the best way to describe Roberts. How about “classicist”? Men doesn’t come off like Womack’s There’s More Where That Came From—it’s not retro, self-consciously or not. But it does hearken to a different time for country music—we should be so lucky that it’s the future, and not the past. These are mostly songs of heartbreak, and Roberts has the voice for ‘em. There’s no gloss here, just simple, honest country music that deserves an audience. If you like your country real and genuine, Julie Roberts is your girl.
Reviewed by: Thomas Inskeep
Reviewed on: 2006-10-17