GARETH STEVENS reviews Juliet Russell’s breathtaking new album: Vox Salva.
Like us all, I truly appreciate the depth and breadth of musical talent that we have in our town, but when I first heard Vox Salva I thought how could such profound beauty come from someone who is not known more widely? Additionally, I felt some regret that this is Juliet Russell’s first solo excursion for over 25 years.
Juliet heads up three community choirs, two in Hastings and one in Brighton. She has performed across the globe and has always been a strong advocate of group singing. She says she is constantly trying to find the sound of the ancient, especially ancient Britain – some kind of sound that comes from between the spheres and is huge yet lost. “I began to strive for the lowest and the highest of notes,” she tells me. Indeed, during the recording of this album, she discovered that she has a full four octave range.
The work is inspired by wide strong landscapes and skies and sets out to share a “glimpse of the divine”. Let me tell you right now that on listening to this I defy anyone not to experience just that. The compositions are inspired by many traditional musics from different cultures. They blend the inimitable harmonies of Bulgarian choirs, with the guttural vocal rhythms of central Africa and the devotional singing drawn from many European countries’ liturgical history. Whilst acknowledging these influences, Juliet also talks a lot about Bessie Smith, I would say that Vox Salva goes beyond and is more than the sum of its antecedental parts. The album is transcendentally moving.
One of Juliet’s original aims for the album was to celebrate just how much can be achieved with just voices. The whole work is that of a vocal ‘orchestra’ that supplies rich textures, complex rhythms and multiple harmonies. Although some of the tracks have instrumentation the body of all the pieces is built by vocals.
The album’s title translates as ‘The Voice Survived’. This is particularly pertinent given the fact that Juliet, like the majority of artists, have had their very livelihood threatened by lockdown. That such a mature and stunningly beautiful work could have come out of such a period of adversity is testament to Juliet’s fortitude and indomitable creative spirit.
And so this is yet another story of an artist, despite – no because of lockdown – simultaneously struggling to earn a living, and at the same time who has found the freedom and time to focus on digging deep into themselves in order to achieve their greatest work.
A special mention must go to Edward Blakeley, a Hastings based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Juliet tells me that he “totally facilitated making this album the best it could possibly be. He had an extraordinary ability to bring the best out of me as both a singer and composer.”
• This is truly a profoundly beautiful album, yet in order to promote it more widely and to attempt to finance its recording retrospectively, Juliet has started a Crowdfunder campaign in order to support the making of
a short promotional video. If you would like to find out more, or to buy a CD, please go to www.vocalexplosion.co.uk
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