Album Of The Month – Juanita Stein – America


Juanita Stein – America

It’s hardly a huge surprise to discover that Howling Bells singer songwriter and guitarist Juanita Stein‘s debut solo album has distinct alt- country flavour running throughout.  It’s a genre that’s been subtly embraced by the band in the past, perhaps none more so than on the band’s stunning eponymous debut album released in 2006 (which still remains our favourite debut album of the last decade.) It received wide spread critical acclaim and earned them the “Goth Country” tag a description which at the time seemed to somewhat baffle the band.  Another three albums which traversed a number of genres, did much to throw off that early tag but there’s was always been a brooding sense of melancholy that pervaded much of their work.

On her debut album, ‘America’  Juniata embraces the dusty, alt country genre with style and substance to craft a wonderfully cinematic occasionally crestfallen album. Despite employing atypical country tropes addressing themes such as heartbreak, betrayal, gambling men, wronged women, broken vows, whiskey in the fridge, and the symbolic blue dress she isn’t constrained by the genre as she fashions an album that is wistful, nostalgic yet modern, relevant and inherently beautiful.

‘Dark Horse’ has shades of Orbison meets the Beatles, whilst  ‘Florence’ is the poetic tale of  Florence Owens Thompson, a song inspired by Dorothea Lange’s iconic 1936 photo, ‘Migrant Mother’  as Stein reimagines her struggle as a woman and a mother during the Great Depression – “Another year will pass/ another temporary home/ another child is raised/ another seed is sown”

‘Cold Comfort ‘ written by Juanita’s Dad and musician Peter Stein is an authentic master class in timeless country blues as is ‘Someone Else’s Dime’ whilst the sprawling cinematic ‘Black Winds’ is the darkest sounding tune on the album and as such perhaps the one that most recalls Howling Bells.

Whilst ‘America’ is not the visceral white knuckle ride of Howling Bells debut album there’s much to admire and it should delight fans of the likes of Hope Sandoval, Julia Jacklin and Patsy Cline.  Thematically the album promises to delve into America’s dark heart but despite the forlorn sense of melancholia invoked by a number of tracks the overriding emotion the listener is left with is one of hope. ‘America’ is ultimately an album which feels redemptive rather than despondent and dispirited. The female protagonists in many of the album’s lovingly crafted vignettes may have been ‘done wrong’ by their man, but they aren’t defined by him.  They aren’t weak acquiescent victims of a selfish lover (or uncaring patriarchal world) , there’s an inner steel to them, and they can still see the stars shine and shimmer and look to the horizon across the dustbowl to imagine, and ultimately create a brighter tomorrow.


JUANITA STEIN - America Album review , the VPME

Andy Von Pip

ANDY VON PIP - Founder, editor, writer, reviewer, photographer and all-round good guy at the House photographer for The Academy Music Group, Zuma Press, Event Magazine and Rex Features worldwide. You can check out his photography at Andy Von Pip Photography Currently writing for U.S. Magazine and website Under The Radar. Andy been new music tipster on BBC6 Music, Amazing Radio, and DJ on Strangeways Radio (USA.) Regular podcasts can be found on Mixcloud and Spotify. His radio work has been described as sounding like Ian McCulloch on ketamine fused with Ringo Starr. He's also been moderator for BBC 6 Music DJ Tom Robinson's Fresh on the Net, and a former member of "BBC's Sound Of" panel. Written and photographic work has been published worldwide wide and appeared in the likes of The Quietus, Music Week, Record Of The Day, The Guardian, GIITV, The Sabotage Times, Bido Lito, The Skinny, Louder Than War.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.