Singer and songwriter Julia Biel’s third eponymous album, due to be released on 9 February, provides a pleasant old-school jazz accompaniment to a relaxed Sunday afternoon, preferably whilst armed with a cup of tea in one hand and the weekend papers strewn across the sofa.
A well-curated album, each track moves onto the next seamlessly and takes the listener on a journey, exploring very different themes, from love and conflict to solitude and loss, even dipping into political debate in moments.
Nearly all the tracks on the album are written and produced by Biel herself. There are some catchy elements to the melodies, but the formulaic nature of the writing means that it has the tendency to feel repetitive, but thanks to the groove in certain tracks and atmospheric nature of some of the other more melancholic songs, it’s still an enjoyable listening experience.
The cover of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ is an unusual arrangement with an entirely adapted harmonic progression, which works to its advantage and it is a highlight. However, its place on this album again buys into the slightly dated format; this song has been redone too many times to be very impactful, and despite the effectiveness of this particular arrangement, it is a little too predictable a choice.
The setback with this album is the overproduction of the tracks, most of which would be more effective in a stripped-back style. The incorporation of guitar licks and introduction of drums in the choruses adds to the overly formulaic writing style. The middle track of the album ‘Something Beautiful’ is a particularly fine example of this, because it has potential to be really impactful, but the added synth effects and drum accompaniment are superfluous and take away from the power of the harmonic progression, which has notable strength.
Biel’s voice is strong – its reach is wide and the tone is understated and works incredibly well with the style. Vibrato could be used a little more sparingly to add impact, but otherwise it suits the music to a T.
If you’re in need of a quiet accompanying album for your sleepy afternoons pottering around the house, Julia Biel’s latest release is a good choice. Its setbacks mean that it is unlikely to enter mainstream jazz charts, but nonetheless it fits a formula proven to work, and would provide a pleasant soundtrack to most weekends.