Julie Waters
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Julie Waters

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


September 9th, 2004-- Brattleboro Reformer

Julie Waters makes 'History' by mixing standards and traditional tunes

Thursday, September 09, 2004 - NORTHAMPTON, Mass.

For her third record, titled "History Lessons," acoustic guitarist Julie Waters deviated from her usual practice of filling her albums predominantly with original work, instead mixing in her unique takes on a number of traditional tunes.

"'History Lessons' involved a lot more pieces where I actually had to sit down to learn the piece first," explained Waters in an e-mail exchange. "With most of what I've done to date, I've worked out my own creations and just sort of went with them. This time, I had pieces which I actually had to practice first and learn."

The resident of Putney finalized the arrangements only when she is comfortable enough with each piece to "improvise with abandon." It was then that she knew a song was ready to be recorded.

Waters put her own stamp on a variety of traditional tunes, from the familiar madrigal "Greensleeves" to an old jig from the British Isles called "The Road to Listdoonvarna," as well as a 400-year-old Bach lute piece, and the hymn "Amazing Grace." All are infused with Waters' imaginative, impassioned strumming.

"I never used to do this sort of thing before," said Waters. "Almost everything I played in the past was original music, and I think I viewed covering other tunes as slumming or unprofessional. My attitude on this has changed, now that I've started playing more traditional tunes and finding some real beauty in music that I used to think of as too simple to bother with."

Just over a year ago, the Boston Folk Festival announced a flatpicking contest, which required entrants to perform traditional fiddle tunes. Waters got involved and submitted her take on "Mari's Wedding." Though the contest ended up being cancelled for lack of entrants, Waters learned to enjoy putting her modern twist on ancient tunes.

"By then I'd gotten the bug and was having real fun with traditional pieces," she said.

Her version of "Greensleeves" grew out of a performance in Brattleboro.

"The newer arrangement evolved from combining it with two other pieces I'd composed, neither of which felt complete in itself. One night, performing at Mole's Eye, I found myself just going back and forth between the three pieces. This turned into its own arrangement of 'Greensleeves.' When I got positive feedback for it, I kept going with it," she said.

Some of the most powerful moments on "History Lessons," however, are originals such as "Cities On Fire," which Waters wrote "from pure rage" just as America was about to embark on the war in Iraq.

"I was thinking about culture and music and history and how many cultures we, as a nation, have managed to destroy in my lifetime alone. I saw it coming, and felt completely helpless to do a thing about it. So I wrote music and released that energy as best as I could."

Waters is an activist and member of Brattleboro Area Peace and Justice Group, (and according to her Web site www.juliewatwers.com -- a teacher, a licensed transporter of injured birds, photographer, Web designer and a creator of puzzles,as well!) who wears her politics on her sleeves.

"I find it difficult to comprehend the notion of separating music from one's politics or viewpoints. That doesn't mean I'll always discuss politics in a performance setting. In fact, I don't spend a lot of time doing so. I'll perform at overtly political events, organize benefit concerts for causes I support, and sign my name to pretty much anything I think is the right thing to do."

When it came time for Waters to find the right venue to hold her "History Lessons" release party, she aptly chose a new place with an old vibe in her hometown.

"Eventually, it all came together in a very Vermont fashion. I ran into a friend who told me about McCliment's, how it had just opened and used to be the Old Welsh Tavern and said 'they're looking for musicians. ... You should drop them a line."

I dropped them a line and they said, in effect, "sounds good!"

Tomorrow night Waters may play another standard not found on "History Lessons"

"Lately I've developed an arrangement for 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' which from my point of view, is a totally cheesy song, but I play it in a way which doesn't come across as at all cheesy or hokey. Go figure."

Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for the Arts & Entertainment section. He can be reached at madeloni@aol.com. - Brattleboro Reformer


Discography

Paths of Flight -- has received play on local radio in Vermont and has large internet radio following (Pandora, primarily)

History Lessons
The Place Beneath the Silence
Rough Cuts

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Julie learned how to read music at an early age, but didn't learn to understand what music really was until much later in life. Guitar was not an easy process for her, having short fingers and no natural sense of melody or rhythm. It was through years of difficult practice and effort that she became the musician she is today.

Conservatory training, and an interest in music from around the world pushed Julie to learn classical guitar, as well as latin, flamenco and jazz styles, studying ancient modal music along the way.

Diagnosed with diabetes in the 1990's, Julie Waters discovered that a nasty side effect is brittle fingernails which break easily, making it difficult to maintain the necessary nail strength to play the quality of classical guitar she'd learned as a student. This left her with a choice: adapt or give up the guitar. As with most things in Julie's life, giving up was not an option. She picked up a flatpick and redeveloped her right hand technique from scratch.

julie waters She expanded her guitar studies to include blues, rock, folk, bluegrass and new age, learning techniques from bass guitar, banjo, bass guitar, baritone guitar, mandolin, tiple and mountain dulcimer along the way. The result is nothing short of extraordinary: virtuoso performance which utilizes a blend of instruments, techniques and influences to create a truly unique sound.

Julie is a folk artist in the truest tradition, weaving stories, motion and rhythm, creating lyrical poetry through the strings of her guitar. This is more than simply a creative approach to music. This is performance which turns on a dime, first evoking ancient modal melodies, and then suddenly sliding into a rock and roll beat which takes you straight into the 21st century.

julie waters Julie hosts a monthly song circle/open mic. She is also a teacher, a licensed transporter of injured birds, an avid photographer, a web designer and a creator of logic, word and math puzzles. Her third CD, History Lessons, has received positive acclaim from the Brattleboro Reformer and numerous fans.

She has yet to decide what to do when she grows up.