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Bek-Jean Stewart - Junior Years

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 20 / 5 / 2007

Bek-Jean Stewart - Junior Years
Label: Laughing Outlaw
Format: CD


Glorious-sounding solo debut CD from talented Sydney-based singer-songwriter Bek-Jean Stewart, the latest signing to the Laughing Outlaw label, which draws comparisions with the last few albums of Lucinda Williams

Ex-member of Australian band Eva Trout, 35 year-old Sydney native Bek-Jean Stewart was last heard playing drums and adding her glorious backing vocals to her fellow Australian Perry Keyes 2005 album ‘Meter’. On this, her solo debut, Bek-Jean not only fills the drum stool but plays guitar, harmonica and harmonium as well. Perry Keyes makes a welcome visit by adding vocals to one song, ‘Lost On The Winding Road’. But despite sterling accompaniment by Grant Shanahan (the Catherine Wheel, Honeys), Matt Galvin, Eddie Kairouz and Warren Bright (and also one Mick Carpenter on lap steel. Could that be the king of all things melodic who usually goes by the name of Michael?) be in no doubt that this is Bek-Jean’s album and, not only does it fulfil the promise Stewart has shown in the past, it exceeds it. A perfect 12 songs long (or short, in this case, it’s an album that you don’t want to end) it’s without a doubt the best album I’ve heard in many a month. It’s one of those rarities, an album that just gets better and better with each song. "This record is for anyone who has loved and cried" Stewart writes in the liner notes; that’s just about all of us then. And there’s much here we can all identify with; songs that sound like old friends even on the very first play. It’s not hard to see where Stewart is coming from. The music she makes on this collection is very much in the Americana mould (why are Australians making the best Americana / country rock these days?) and although Stewart says her references for this album were Neil Young, Aimee Mann and The Replacements it must be said that this album can stand proud against the last few albums by Lucinda Williams. Maybe Bek-Jean won’t welcome such comparisons but it’s a fact; Bek-Jean Stewart, with this collection of songs, comes across as a younger Lucinda. That statement is made as the greatest compliment. It took Williams a good number of years and at least 3 albums before she received anything more than cult-status, with this solo debut Stewart has accomplished what it took Williams years to do. Namely make a classic album firmly rooted in Americana / country-rock. Stewart is not really breaking new ground here, and apart from those Lucinda Williams influences shining through one can also hear strains of Ryan Adams; the title song, ‘Junior Years’ recalls some of Adams’ best work. It could have been lifted from ‘Heartbreaker’, but again that’s a compliment. What Stewart is doing is making a claim for one of the best albums of 2007 so far. I’ve already listened to this album more times than I have Williams’s last release, it really is that good. Bek-Jean wrote all the songs on this album and apart from showing that she knows how to write songs with melodies that will float around your head all day and have you singing along she also proves that she is a lyricist of some worth. Often there’s a bitter sting in her lyrics despite floating them on the prettiest of melodies at times. Never one to skate around an issue Stewart’s lyrics are hard-hitting and one is in no doubt that here is a woman who is carrying scars and is not afraid to point the finger at those responsible for doing her wrong. Those stinging lyrics though would not be as effective if they were not delivered in Stewart’s rough-hewn vocals. It’s the perfect vehicle for these songs of hurt and longing; the sound of one cigarette too many, the damage from hitting that bottle just a little too often maybe, but it all adds up to the right sound for these songs. This is a stunning solo debut and little else has had a chance in the CD player since it arrived. It’s an album where the cliché that it gets better with every play really does apply. By the time you get to the chiming guitars opening the last song, ‘Neck In Knives’ with Stewart singing that "You’re programmed into my headspace" you realise that the whole album is indeed so deeply embedded into your brain that all you will want to do is take the glorious trip that is ‘Junior Years’ one more time…then one just another…then another…

Track Listing:-
1 Sweet Light
2 When I Was
3 Trainwreck
4 Driving Night, Holy Night
5 Lover Come Over
6 Modern Primitive
7 Lost on the Winding Road
8 Couldn't Turn My Back
9 Junior Years
10 In Your Reflection
11 Bleed Like a Woman
12 Neck in Knives

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