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Julie Moffitt: Belle of the Tunes by Mark Kir

The picture on the front of her CD Cover to Cover shows singer songwriter Julie Moffitt covered with a bed sheet and smiling unselfconsciously at the viewer. This image, in its simple honesty, is appropriate for her CD. In addition to recording original material, Moffitt decided to include songs by other artists that she loves and have inspired her. Indeed, all people learn by imitating others and for artists it is even more important. As the great Salvador Dali once said, "Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing."

The songs she chose to cover, and the way she plays them, with nuance and deep emotion that doesn't come in a can, shows that she has been around for a while. With an interest in classical music (Chopin) and art rock (Kansas, Emerson Lake and Palmer) going back to her childhood days in the '70s, her music is another example of how there is nothing magical about youth culture in music. No disrespect to Alicia Keys and Corinne Bailey Rae, but you can't fake experience and the lessons that come with traveling through life's stages. During her formative years as a musician she also grew to love the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Cat Stevens and other folk artists. All of these influences, along with years spent studying music in college, have percolated over time and given her a unique and confident voice and way of expressing songs.

Strong piano playing and passionate singing come through on "She Has Become" and the elegiac "Dancing Man" in a way that recalls the Bronx, NY native Laura Nyro. "She Has Become" captures the frustration of people trapped in a social role, and finding the need for change and adventure overwhelming: "My heart's been tied up in a box like a wounded prisoner / ...Don't want to wake up old with nothing but security." Emotional rescue is also the topic of "Dancing Man." Her voice fits perfectly with the music, elegantly tweaking the emotions of the song, be it shouted and belted as on the former or sung as a stately aria of restrained emotion on the latter.

The complex piano chords and vigorous vocal lines of these songs are eschewed on the more traditional folk music cuts like "Jonathan," which is a simple song about an emotionally distant corporate big shot. It is really the story of alienation, fear and sadness masked by much-praised workaholism and is sincere in its social commentary without preachiness or emotional distance.

Gordon Lightfoot is one of the great overlooked folk song writers. His profile and popularity were dwarfed by Bob Dylan, Donovan and Jackson Browne back in the day, and countless lesser lights in recent years. Moffitt's cover of "Early Mornin' Rain" is a great rendition of a great song. This cut shows how simple elements can be put together to create something that is emotionally complex; in this case it a song about a rambling man, reminiscent of Glenn Campbell's "Gentle on my Mind."

Of all of the covers on this CD "Belle of the Blues" stands out the most. The blues cabaret style of her piano playing and singing has as much power as a band. The vocal melody is haunting and raw at the same time. As with the other songs on this CD, the performance perfectly fits the music. This one is the flip side, emotionally speaking, of "Nobody Loves When You're Down and Out." Here the narrator/singer is resigned, defiantly so, to her fate: "Their children sing of sorrow, it's the same old routine / They've begged and they've borrowed someone else's misery / It's an easy act to follow, at least an easy one for me / Give me my tomorrows, you can have my memories." The singing and playing throughout this song, and the rest of the CD (with the exception of the overwrought "The Rose," a song that not even the all-time greats could save), show another consequence of experience - restraint and economy. There are no extraneous vocal gymnastics or displays of chops. Everything she does is in the service of the song and the music. Cover to Cover is Julie Moffitt showing us what she's got. Like she writes on her CD Baby page, "There's a little blues, a little rock, a little folk, and, of course, a little melancholy. These songs are me... from cover to cover."

About the Author:

MusicDish e-Journal

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