Julie Roberts’ first new full-length release in almost three years, “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” marks the acclaimed singer/songwriter’s defining musical moment thus far. Just as significantly, the album represents Roberts’ debut with the legendary Sun Records, world-renowned home to such icons as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. The first new release on Sun in decades, “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” is a genuine milestone in the label’s storied history, as well as Roberts’ own incredible artistic and personal journey.
“I feel like I’ve finally found a place to be,” she says. “Where my music really fits. I’m really excited about that. It doesn’t seem real in a way. Maybe when I see the actual record with the Sun label on it.
“There’s some pressure to live up to the Sun Records tradition, but I just keep reminding myself to do what I do, to do the best that I can do. I’m so thankful that they believe in what I do enough to let me do it.”
Sun Records famously brought together a variety of musical genres to create something altogether new, and “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” very much carries on that great tradition. The album reflects Roberts’ ardor and admiration for such like-minded artists as Ray LaMontagne, Norah Jones, and Amos Lee – diverse singer/songwriters who fuse elements of folk, R&B, rock, and classic country into a distinctly modern brand of Americana.
“Bluesy, soulful country – that’s a sound I’ve always been drawn to,” she says. “Because that’s my vibe too.”
“GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” was recorded over the spring and summer of 2013 with her longtime collaborator, songwriter/musician Jason Collum, and his multi-talented partners at the Nashville-based production company Sorted Noise.
“They understand me as an artist,” Roberts says of the Sorted Noise team. “They all do. They understand my goals and where I want to be.”
Roberts’ most recent album, 2011’s extraordinary “ALIVE,” recounted a particularly difficult period in the singer’s life, a trying time that saw her losing her home and car to the historic Nashville floods just as she was being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A strikingly personal song cycle, “ALIVE” served as Roberts’ public affirmation of her thankfully continuing presence. “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS” is by design, a more upbeat and direct affair, setting her rich vocals to a number of favorite songs written and collected over her career but “saved for the right project.”
“I don’t know that there’s a particular story I’m telling,” Roberts says. “I’m just doing songs that I love, that I’m drawn to. I just wanted it to be a collection of songs that I connect with.”
Spanning hell-raising honky tonk to tearjerking ballads, songs like “When It’s Over,” “Keep Me Up All Night” and the boisterous title track – written in collaboration with Collum and others – are among Roberts’ finest to date, blessed by a frank, straightforward lyrical voice as resonant and emotive as her own remarkable singing. Roberts credits the lifelong influence of such indelible women as Patsy Cline and Barbara Mandrell, not to mention her own adored mother, whose romantic travails inspired the album’s heartbreaking “Old Habit.”
“When I write I’m kind of tapping into the music I listened to growing up,” she says, “the traditional country music Mama always listened to. I’m just drawn to that sound and that kind of honesty.”
Other highlights include the fiery “Gasoline and Matches,” written by and featuring vocals from the illustrious guitarist/producer Buddy Miller, as well as a delicious cover of Bobbie Gentry’s timeless “He Made A Woman Out Of Me,” penned by Fred Burch & Donald Hill and selected from the late Sun Records owner Shelby Singleton’s expansive song catalogue.
“There are so many songs I really love,” Roberts says, “I’ve actually got way more songs than I can put on a record. That’s a good problem to have.”
Having already spent much of her life singing and performing, Roberts first stepped into the national spotlight with 2004’s self-titled debut album. Fueled by the top 20 Country smash, “Break Down Here,” “JULIE ROBERTS” quickly earned RIAA gold for sales in excess of 500,000, as well as a plethora of critical praise. “One of the most auspicious debuts in years,” declared Entertainment Weekly in an “A” rated rave. “(Roberts) cuts through country's dross to find its bluesy heart. In choosing songs of substance and sensuality, the South Carolina native harks back to the confessional style of Linda Ronstadt, packing hidden hurts and dashed dreams into every chorus.” The New York Times agreed, praising “JULIE ROBERTS” as “an album full of addictive and complicated love songs,” further naming “Break Down Here” as “one of the year’s best country ballads.”
Roberts was an undeniable sensation, making a wide range of national TV appearances, including three memorable performances on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and five appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America, not to mention being paired alongside Rihanna in Clinique’s “HAPPY” campaign. In addition, she was the first-ever focus of CMT’s In The Moment, documenting how she rose from Universal Music Group Nashville assistant to a breakout star in her own right. Multiple honors also followed, including an array of nominations from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music, and the CMT Awards.
“MEN & MASCARA” followed in 2006, making a top 5 chart debut on Billboard’s “Top Country Albums” tally while also entering among the top 25 on the overall Billboard 200. The album – which marked Roberts’ first foray into songwriting, with four co-writes among the tracklisting – again earned widespread applause, with Allmusic.com extolling it as “a Nashville country album that transcends the usual clichés to a remarkable extent.”
Having spent years touring and recording, Roberts took a brief hiatus from music to recharge her batteries and confront a number of personal challenges. She returned stronger than ever with 2011’s “ALIVE” and the “WHO NEEDS MISTLETOE?” holiday EP, both released via her own independent Ain’t Skeerd Records. The Yuletide-themed EP received critical hosannas across the board, with the New York Times hailing it as “Ms. Roberts’s best work since her smoldering self-titled 2004 debut. Like that album, this EP is spare and desperate-sounding, with plenty of spaces for Ms. Roberts’s lovely husky voice to seep into.”
Now, with the imminent release of “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS,” Roberts is eagerly anticipating a full-scale return to the road, with plans calling for nearly non-stop touring long into the indefinite future. She is also quick to point out that, despite her ongoing battle with MS, she is more than prepared to tackle whatever challenges the endless highway might offer.
“I want people to know that I can still do whatever I want,” she says. “It’d be way more stressful for me to not be doing what I love. I would worry more for my health sitting home than playing shows every night. That’s where I love to be.”
Roberts’ spirited enthusiasm rings loud and true throughout “GOOD WINE AND BAD DECISIONS.” Together with the powerhouse support of both Sun Records and Sorted Noise, the gifted songstress has given her substantial all to craft an album that stands simultaneously as her most grounded and most adventurous, an undeniably special collection of songs touched by a truly unique artist’s authenticity, resourcefulness, and passion.
“God gave me this opportunity that I’ve asked for,” Julie Roberts says, “so I’m putting everything I’ve got into it. Everything. Every bit of energy, every bit of emotion. I’m just going for it. I’m doing what I love and I’m praying that other people love it too.”