After spending five years in Austin, TX, where her famed weekly performances attracted various local and visiting musical luminaries, Christensen headed to the West Coast. In 1983 she joined forces with Chris D (the Flesh Eaters) to form the Divine Horsemen. A forerunner in the then undiscovered realm of alternative country, the band recorded and released three albums and one EP and included among its ranks the likes of Kid Congo Powers (the Cramps), Jeffery Lee Pierce (the Gun Club) and Wall of Voodoo’s Stan Ridgeway. The band broke up in 1988, but not before carving a musical path that everyone from the Jayhawks to Ryan Adams have since followed.
Cooing with Cohen
Despite establishing an indelible presence on the West Coast music scene with the Divine Horsemen, it was Leonard Cohen who took Christensen’s diverse vocal talent to the world stage. Not only was Christensen vocalizing in support of Leonard Cohen in 1988 when the legendary wordsmith released his seminal album, I’m Your Man, but she also joined him on his 1993 follow-up, The Future. Cohen took both albums on the road, and Christensen — along with fellow county songstress Perla Batalla — harmonized with him for three world tours. You can follow their escapades on the road in the BBC documentary Songs From the Life of Leonard Cohen.
A beautiful thing
When Hal Wilner curated his famed Leonard Cohen tribute concerts, Came So Far For Beauty, his shrewdest casting ploy was enlisting the services of Cohen’s two long-serving backing vocalists — Christensen and Batalla. Not only did Christensen share the vocalizing with Batalla on “Anthem,” but she also dueted with Lou Reed on “Joan of Arc” and joined Nick Cave on his rendition of “Suzanne.” The initial performance of this tribute series was staged at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Festival of Sydney, and the show subsequently provided the foundation for Liam Lunsen’s 2005 Mel Gibson-produced cinematic love letter to Cohen, I’m Your Man, in which Christensen is, of course, prominently featured.
Her latest recorded endeavor, Where the Fireworks Are, had no shortage of songs for radio to delight in. But when a radio station in Williamsburg, VA — which just happens to be home to one of the largest naval bases in the country — got its hands on the record, it wasn’t the introspective ballad “Something Pretty” that the station picked up, but rather the politically charged anti-war title track. “It’s funny some of the places where certain songs have struck a chord,” Christensen said at the time. She was no doubt greatly amused to then find the album being played not only across the United States and Canada, but also on the European Americana network and on similar stations in both Australia and New Zealand.
Having immaculately crafted the definitive studio album with Where the Fireworks Are, Christensen’s plan is to strip things back for her next recorded venture. In wanting to impart a sound more akin to the music’s live incarnation, she is teaming up with Kenny Edwards (Linda Ronstadt/ Stone Poneys), who will helm the album’s production. It was of course no coincidence the two shared the stage at the recent Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, where Christensen performed seven showcases. Having already entertained the thought of doing an acoustic album herself, when Edwards made the suggestion of working together, not only was it the perfect affirmation, but also the perfect teaming.
Julie Christensen will perform at Theater 150 in Ojai, on Saturday, March 21. The show starts 8 p.m., tickets are $20. Call 646 4300, www.stonecupid.com.