(Ketch A Vibe Records)
Julie Dexter first caught my attention as singer/co-writer of Free As on I.G. Culture's New Sector Movement album Download This in 2001. And then it was word of mouth on the Internet that I found out that Julie is highly creative, has her own website and was bold enough to re-settle from her place of birth, Birmingham (UK), to Atlanta, Georgia (USA) and what's more important writes, produces and records her own music and distributes it on her own label Ketch A Vibe Records.
That's something she has in common with artists like Sandra St. Victor, Ledisi, Karen Bernod or N'Dambi who also took the independent road and make their albums available through the internet only with no major labels involved (ok, Sandra's album was licensed to Expansion Records for European distrbution but that's also an independent label). On one hand this offers the artist more creative freedom with no A&R telling them what they should record for marketing purposes (or as Julie put it: 'I've been tempted by the deal thing, but at the same time, I don't want to lose the fact that I'm a free woman to do what I want to do. If I want to sing with the man down the street, I can do that right now.'). On the other hand the disadvantage for the music lover is that he or she has to become aware of these artists because one won't find their albums in record stores (sometimes not even in the specialized shops). That of course would be such a loss because there is still great music out there, you just have to listen to the right artists.
But back to Julie and her most recent full-length album Dexterity which is such a great album. Julie's music is very diverse, comprising soul, jazz and some reggae influences or as Julie once said: 'Jazz music was the first music I came from but to be honest, I'd say reggae has been my strongest influence because I grew up listening to reggae, without trying to play reggae or sing reggae, it's just been in my bones.'
So we have some slight reggae/dub hints musicwise on songs like Faith, How Can You Feel or God Bless The Dub. The latter being a cover version of Billie Hoilday's God Bless The Child that is good because Julie does something different and unexpected with the song.
But even here it's Julie singing deeply from her soul just like on the uptempo Ketch A Vibe with some slight drum & bass references and poetic lyrics ('Lyrics flow like deep water, rippling with emotion, I got a notion/ Don't undermine this feeling, it's what I believe in/ Cos it's the love that I'm guilty of/ When I float I sail like a ship on the ocean/ When the tide is high my heart rides in motion/ When the sea is calm I think of sweet melodies of Jupiter/ Let my mind drift with the breeze/ Let my eyes see what I see/ Let my thoughts fall from the sky/ Let me ride, let me ride').
Love was recorded with one of Julie's favourite groups Fertile Ground and it wouldn't have been out of place on Fertile Ground's own album Season's Change.
The aforementioned Faith is something like Julie's history put into one song ('Got up one morning, said to myself gonna take a chance in life/ Booked myself a one way flight/ Didn't really know what I was doing but somehow it felt right, right, yeah/ Got on the plane said goodbye to foggy weather but I knew it wouldn't be forever/ See the place where I was born is part of what I have become/ One English girl from Birmingham'). Very nice indeed although I'm not so sure if this was really an ad hoc decision she made up one morning :-)
But Julie's also aware of the state of the world. Just listen to songs like the soulful That's Livin ('We live our lives from day to day/ Never knowing if we'll find our way/ In a world abused by guns and wars/ Where the rich get richer and the poor stay poor/ That's livin') or the thoughtful I Dream ('I see the one who takes pride in being a true man indeed/ Whilst other cannot find the time to nurture the needs/ Of generations that they breed/ And what about greed, what about greed? Greed will rob a man of all his true deeds/ It's knowing when it's time to draw the line between/ The want for more and what we need').
And then there's also the dark and jazzy How Long with even more food for thought ('Do you know that life is just a moment/ Something so precious/ Shame you can't hold it/ If you have a second chance/ Would you change a thing/ Or would you live the same life again') or the equally appealing Moving On which could've come straight out of the 70ies lyricwise (but then little have changed since then regarding peace and war).
Add to Julie's fine voice and songwriting abilities some competent musicans like The Real Deal Horns or Eric Appapoulay on acoustic guitar (on Moving On) and we have a great album with a more organic, soulful approach (and don't call it Nu Soul) or like Julie said: 'The label thing is funny to me, but I guess the closest one is the neo-soul because of the soul thing in my music, but I'm like, I make soulful music. It comes from the soul. If you want to call it neo or nu that's your label, but the soul is what comes from inside. First and foremost I want to make good music for the rest of my life.'
I don't know what the future will bring but with Dexterity Julie has definitely succeeded in making not only good but great music. Very well done and another album to appear in this years list of best albums.
(for Julie's bio click here and visit juliedexter.com where you also can purchase the album)