Review: Organic feel for O Juliet’s album

It’s taken New Plymouth singer-songwriter Juliet McLean four years to follow up her debut EP, The Dance. That six-tracker always felt like side one of an album, missing its side two. Cut to 2019 and here comes Unlash The Boats, a new full-length album, replete with side two – literally, as the only physical copies are a limited vinyl release. It’s also available to download and stream from the usual suspects.

O Juliet
Unlash the Boats
Reviewed by Andy Bassett

Returning from that first release are Hamish Cameron on bass and guitar, and Rob Ju on drums and guitar. Previously known as Juliet McLean and The Navigators, the three have now morphed into one, rebranding as O Juliet.

Having played together for quite a few years now, Cameron and Ju know how to weave their instruments tastefully around McLean’s piano and trademark dusky voice, never overpowering the song.

The basic tracks for the album’s nine songs were recorded live in the studio – bass, drums, keyboards and a guide vocal, imbuing the whole affair with an organic feel, as the players feed off each other. In fact one track, Figured It Out, is a completely live take, even retaining Juliet’s guide vocal.

Producer Sam Johnson has largely kept himself out of the mix, sprinkling a little fairy-dust here and there where it enhances the song. The opening Queen’s March is a case in point, with McLean’s vocal treated to stand out crisply against Cameron’s rich bass – not quite telephone-voice but heading subtly in that direction – and, rather than overdub an organ part, the trio layer in massed wordless vocals as an instrumental texture. On parts of Leaving Copper Mountain, the lead vocal, sparse keys and brushed drums are “aged” so that the song shifts between the sonic equivalents of sepia and full colour.

McLean’s writing is typically melancholy and reflective, though the album never becomes maudlin, with Ju’s lyrical, deft percussion (his other band is the Pink Floyd Experience) giving everything a vital lift, most notably on Set The Fire, on which he seems to be channelling Bernard Purdie, and the more straight-ahead, upbeat closer Somebody’s Sweetheart.

Reviewed by Andy Bassett