Ceri Justice 2022
Sad-eyed lady of the Midlands crosses the line between cold confusion and hot affection.
If there ever was such a sub-genre as “Black Country rock” to span the outcrop of artists from around Birmingham area, Ceri Justice could be its current crown princess, for her Brummiericana is nigh on sublime, and “Walk In Shadow” offers a stroll the people who think that overseas influence on English music ceased decades ago should go for. A successor to “Justified” from 2019 which put the songstress on musical map, her sophomore album may seem more reflective – only the record’s ballads come well-balanced by a few rambunctious numbers. As a result, the dozen tracks on display don’t produce the feeling of cultural displacement; on the contrary, they run an alluring gamut of moods.
So while the sparseness of opener “Wanted” is drenched in melodic tumult thanks to multi-instrumentalist Paul Johnston, the vocalist’s velveteen vulnerability is revealed once her voice is left alone with Marion Fleetwood’s violin before turning boisterous again, and switching to tremulous romanticism on “The Creek” where electric guitar lines shoot through acoustic strum and anxious throb of a groove. However, it’s serrated riffs and insistent rhythm that drive the catchy “Now I See” and “You Did What You Did” off the countrified thoroughfare, whereas the lushly orchestrated, pedal-steel-assisted “Loves Let Me Down” will fall right in this heartfelt category, and “Thunder” will follow the suit, albeit temporarily, because there’s a gorgeous tune to unchain the cut’s stylistic scope.
Still, the entire spectrum of the lady’s performing abilities is moved into the spotlight by her rather faithful handling of “Do Anything You Wanna Do” and “Jolene” – the former venturing to the verge of defiance and the latter venting out Ceri’s anger in a punchy sound that would manifest itself in the gently rocking “Mess You Up” as well. And then, there are two very special pieces: the jangly “JCC” from Justice’s debut reappears here in remixed form, featuring the song’s protagonist John Cooper Clarke, and the titular Celtic-scented mini-epic, which takes Ceri to the land of her ancestors in most tremendous, yet unpretentious, ways.
Whether Ms. Justice belongs to shadows is debatable; that she’s well-poised to grace any walk of life is undoubtable.