Barbara Jean English - Just Like a Lady (1974)

This has been one of my favourite records for a long, long time. Her voice is slick, the arrangements are tight, and the lush, layered production value lends it an incredibly warm sound overall. At first listen, it's a record for the last lazy days of summer; it's an album for laid-back gatherings and cozy nights in. But what makes it a little "off" - or extremely special, in my eyes - is that despite its positive sound, the lyrics are heartbreakingly bleak.

It took me a few listens to notice, but in the bluntly titled "So Many Ways To Die", I started picking it up. Right off the bat, she lists several options for ending it all: drowning in a river, jumping off a mountain, or drinking an entire case of bourbon, cursing "every drop that I am drinking, 'cause I know booze will get me by and by". Dark themes continue in other tracks, whose apt titles like "I'm Living a Lie" and "Danger Signs" speak for themselves.

There's something almost humorous about this dissonance: this tortured soul, expressing her desolate stories, but over an upbeat, feel-good, jivin' four-on-the-floor track. But ultimately, it's a tender and bittersweet record, and a testament to a woman making cathartic music in the best way she could. And it's really, really good.

At risk of reading far too much into the lyrics, and reflecting them back onto their singer (I can't confirm who's responsible for songwriting on this gem), I did a little digging on Barbara Jean. There's almost nothing out there, though I did manage to glean that she reconnected with her earlier girl group, the Clickettes, to do some touring in the '90s. She's now semi-retired from singing. (What I'm trying to say is, I'm glad she didn't drink that case of bourbon.)

You can sneak a preview of my favourite track below, or get the full record here.

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