Written by: Dave Cantrell
Legacies and past associations can’t always be relied upon to tell the whole tale, memory being the untrustworthy narrator that it can so frequently be, but as often as not, for better or ill, it’s where we turn to help give shape to first impressions, especially when it applies to musicians and their work. So, in case the name before you here eludes familiarity, let’s try these: Richard Hell & the Voidoids. The Outsets. Shriekback. The Clash, Garland Jeffreys Giorgio Gomelsky Matthew Sweet the Fleshtones and that is, we’re assuming, enough to intrigue for now. For extra added WOW! points throw in a band called Lovelies with then-wife Cynthia Sley of Bush Tetras at the mic in 1988 and we gotta believe the who and what of the name ‘Ivan Julian’ has become luminous in your curiosity. And well it should, so, quickly…
Worldly at an early age due his dad being a Navy officer, Julian, having schooled himself in music since seeing Hendrix when he was twelve and studied college-level music theory while still in high school, arrived in NYC in 1977 with an already growing résumé – toured Europe with The Foundations of “Build Me Up Buttercup” fame when he was 17, ffs – and promptly fell in with Richard Hell and the two of them formed the Voidoids. When that seminal project dissolved in 1980 Julian formed the Outsets, whose album The Punk/Funk Voodoo Collection was produced by Gomelsky while Garland Jeffreys produced follow-up EP The Ice Man. Past that, in inexact order, we have that Lovelies project with Sley, an invitation from The Clash to join them in recording Sandanista (turned down due to an Outsets tour but he did help them flesh out “The Call-Up”), two cross-pond tours with Shriekback and a near-decade as Matthew Sweet’s onstage lead guitarist not to mention producing the two most recent Fleshtones albums. Over the span of the past eight years cancer has struck – met by a 2-day benefit to help cover medical bills that featured the likes of Debbie Harry, Thurston Moore and the abovementioned Sweet – been vanquished then reappeared but as this paragraph attests that wasn’t about to stop Mr. Julian and here we have his solo album Swing Your Lanterns (Pravda, February 17th), by turns blistering, elegiac, funky, rocking and reflective, sometimes all at once. Think that’s just a bit of rhetorical indulgence? Think again.
Opening track “Cut Me Loose,” with Jared Michael Nickerson’s bubble bass deep in the action, has the feel of Parliament gone pop gone classic Bowery rock’n’roll gone just plain gone, Julian letting fly with a solo at the far end of the street. This he follows with “Can’t Help Myself,” the blues as written by an original New York punk that’s immersed himself in a bit of mid-tempo Stones along the way, an unavoidable influence that rises here and there on Lanterns, including the aching “Tell Me Lies,” balladic in that Beggars Banquet kind of way. In “I Am Not A Drone (alone)” you get the punk pop perk of the Romantics had they had an existential bent, which is to say the song’ll make you rock and bounce just fine (thank you very much) while also including lines like “The sun eats new horizons.” Past that we come to “Swing Your Lanterns” itself, direct, concise, with a little bit of Eddie Hazel-like guidance as the track tracks a path through the murk and confusion stalking all of us, at which point we find ourselves down there in the clutches as the album heads for the exits with a couple of killer tracks, “Voodoo Christmas” and “Love Affair.” The former is just downright haunted, a cut-loose organ line swirling in the atmosphere like a djin let free to wander at will while the latter, “Love Affair,” closes out proceedings with, appropriately, a tale of bracing farewell amid the smolder of regret and loss, Julian’s guitar tones telling as much if not more of the tale than the lyric.
Overall quite the triumph, then, if one subtly tempered by the ghosts and shadows of mortality, a state of play that dogs us all of a certain vintage (Mr Julian has but 6½ more months of existence under his belt than this writer). That he’s come to this effort with a kind of later-in-life, guns a-blazin’ grace gives Swing Your Lanterns both the panache and restraint required to make it work and work splendidly. Songwriting chops? Well, that’s just a bonus and a generous one at that.[light up your rock’n’roll life either digitally or on CD here]