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Julie Lee takes the "Stillhouse Road"

By Greg Milliken, November 2004

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"Wouldn't you know," Lee laughs, "the song she liked the most, 'Many Waters,' was the one I had arranged directly from scripture - the Song of Solomon, Chapter 8."

But Krauss liked her work, and encouraged Lee to keep writing for her. The peripatetic Lee then promptly left for a year's stay in Ireland to work with students at Queens College.

But on her return to the States, Krauss' "incredible friendship" began opening doors for her. After opening for Krauss at the Ryman Auditorium, Lee was courted and signed as a writer/artist with publisher Alfred E. Brumley and Sons. They then recorded the album of her compositions that became "Stillhouse Road."

She started shopping the album to bluegrass labels. Compadré Records liked what they heard and leased the record from Brumley, inviting Lee to join their stellar stable of roots artists.

Released in October, "Stillhouse Road" is an earthy, acoustic blend of bluegrass, folk and gospel. Black and white family photos from the time of the Great Depression illustrate the liner notes. Her warm, lilting vocals and nostalgic-yet-contemporary songwriting attracted help from bluegrass mainstays Krauss, Vince Gill, Rob Ickes and Dave Peterson. Mike Porter and Andy West produced the dozen offerings.

The title cut comes from old family stories about a backwoods still and doubts that the "moonshine was used for communion wine." But a deeper subtext longs for the family's lost land, where "pictures and memories are all that's left you."

Two of the songs look back to her early days in Nashville, when she lived in an African-American neighborhood and observed the daily joys and struggles of her neighbors.

In "James," she transforms the sadness and vulnerability she felt after James Byrd, Jr. was brutally killed by white racists in Texas. "It made me ashamed that one human being could do that top another." A haunting photo of the 19th century abolitionist and stories of the Underground Railroad inspired the bluesy "Sojourner Truth." "Her eyes looked right through me," Lee says.

Home and hearth are center stage in Lee's jaunty ode to home cooking, "Made From Scratch," and "Beautiful Night" recalls quiet winter walks in Bedford County, where friends are "coming round to the door...singing and laughing out loud." Her strong religious convictions are unapologetically celebrated in "He's My Man" and in the song that first interested Krauss, "Many Waters."

Of course, it wouldn't be a bluegrass album without a song about lost love. The wistful "Till The Cows Come Home" brings the album full circle with memories of her widower Uncle Anson and his Pennsylvania farm.

While waiting for the CD's release, Lee kept busy writing with folks like John Pennell, Jerry Salley and Peterson. She also continued with her art, where, as in her music, she "pieces together old and forgotten things" into works of beauty.

Lee is very comfortable in the artistic home she found in bluegrass and roots music. She believes these genres dissolve the lyrical boundaries she finds inherent in commercial Christian music.

"In roots music, you can sing about what you feel and believe and not be sequestered into a separate subculture. I'm an artist who is a Christian - not a 'Christian artist'. In Christ, I became free to sing about anything."

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