After the semi-success that was her self-titled debut, Julie returned to the fans in 2006 with Men & Mascara. This time around she hired Byron Gallimore; the man responsible for producing Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, both of whom have turned out to be two of the biggest hit makers in the genre. Any sane person would think that this would be the recipe for success; a stellar vocalist who also has a stunning exterior, great songs, and a contemporary production. Alas, no. Neither of the singles released off the album (The title track, and a cover of Saving Jane’s “Girl Next Door”) charted, and so this album faded quietly into obscurity, which is truly sad, because this is one of the best albums I’ve heard. Ever.
In the opening track “Paint And Pillows”, Julie assumes the role of a woman whose man just cheated on her. She uses their home and furniture as a metaphor for their relationship:
It’s gonna take more than paint and pillows
New curtains on these windows
To cover up all the trash that you drug in
There ain’t a rug big enough to sweep it under
And just in case you wonder
I’d rather strike a match and watch it go up in smoke
It’s gonna take more than paint and pillows
He can’t fix what he broke with just a few band-aids, and if he doesn’t make a better effort, she’s ending the relationship. This would’ve made a killer single, because not only does it showcase Julie’s voice brilliantly; it also has a contemporary sounding production. It would’ve slipped right in between Before He Cheats and Should’ve Said No; the only thing separating it from them being: the fact that it’s actually good. Damn good, to be more precise.
In “Smile”, Julie’s not over her past lover, and seeing him smile is breaking her heart. Julie nails the emotion (as always) in the song, and a great use of steel and fiddle ensures that this track is another winner. In “Too Damn Young”, the narrator is looking back on those days when everything seemed so easy, but she’s also realized that she and her lover were both naïve lying there on that old wooden dock, “kissing like they meant forever”. Gallimore’s production makes it sound light and breezy, which results in the nostalgic part of the lyric being highlighted; making it a great track for the summer.
“Men & Mascara” is probably the song that sums up my taste in music the best. Tender, feminine, and sad; “Men & Mascara” deals with men, and how they always seem to be lying scumbags. The brilliance of this song lies in the comparison of “Men & Mascara”, which is both original and creative.
She ain’t getting any younger
It wasn’t supposed to be this way
Staring in the mirror
With little black rivers running down her face.
Tomorrow’s gonna be a brand new day
She’ll wake up in the morning and wash it all away
Last night, he said she was the one
Oh, but men and mascara, they always run
Yeah, men and mascara always run
As brilliant as “Men & Mascara” is; making it a single was probably not the wisest thing to do. “Sad”, “slow”, and “creatively written” isn’t going to be well-received by radio, despite the fact that it had a killer video accompanying it. It’s just another reason to dislike mainstream radio.
Julie hits the road in “First To Never Know”, after finally having enough of her lying boyfriend/husband. She has no idea where she’ll go, but she doesn’t care, and assures her ex that he’ll be the “first to never know”. Yet another great track, with a strong melody, and an engaging vocal from Julie. “Chasin’ Whiskey” is a heartbreaking traditional drinking song, in which Julie tries her hardest to drown her loneliness with whiskey, but also with a man she knows she shouldn’t be fooling around with.
Some use water, others use beer
Some don’t need anything but I end up here
Searchin’ for comfort for this burn I can’t soothe
Chasin’ my whiskey with you
Every time is the last time ’til the next rolls ’round
I’ll trade lonely for regret, it’s easier to drown
With a more stripped production, “Chasin’ Whiskey” could make for one killer traditional country song, but as of now, it’s one killer contemporary song. Kudos to Byron Gallimore for making the album sound contemporary, and not poppy.
“A Bridge That’s Burning” and “Girl Next Door”, the latter being a cover of the Saving Jane hit, and also the strongest of the two. In “Girl Next Door”, Julie plays the part of an envious high school girl, who is very bitter because she’s only “the girl next door”, and this other girl gets to be a cheerleader, the prom queen, etc. Definitely something for the Taylor Swift crowd, but unlike Swift, Julie can sing. This is the only song on the album that can be called a pure pop song; a few banjo licks is the only thing that keeps it “country”.
“Lonely Alone” is about a woman made lonely, but not because her man has left her; he’s just not “there” for her. She decides to be lonely alone, instead of being lonely with him there. Topically, it’s similar to the Reba McEntire song of the same name, but unlike that track, neither Julie’s vocal or the production is bombastic. “That Ain’t A Crime” is another song about a woman completely unable to unchain herself from the memory of her ex. This one could’ve benefited from a slower tempo, and some more fiddles, but it’s still a worthwhile track. “Mama Don’t Cry” is a track that’s similar to “Don’t Forget To Remember Me” by Carrie Underwood (and all those girl-leaves-hometown songs really), but this one is particularly well-written, and another great vocal from Julie (I would’ve saved a lot of time if I just said “apply this to all songs” at the beginning of the review, wouldn’t I?).
“All I Want Is You” has Julie listing all the things she needs, but the last line of every verse ends with “but what I want is you”. She knows what she should do, and she knows what she needs, but it doesn’t matter, because she can’t move on, and so everything she needs is trumped by her desire for this man. The track is sparsely produced, and Julie’s vocal understated. A very fine way to end this brilliant album.
With this, Julie has managed to not only create a commercial and mass-appealing album; she’s also managed to create an artistic masterpiece. Had it been given a chance by radio, I’m certain it would be certified platinum by now. I also feel the need to comment on the stunning cover art; which looks very classy, but not boring. The mint-green is lovely, and Julie’s pumps look great. Color me impressed with this album.
Watch the video for “Men & Mascara”, and watch Julie perform “Girl Next Door” and “First To Never Know”.