Julian Velard – If You Don’t Like It, You Can Leave

It’s been 6 years since I last wrote about Julian Velard on this blog (bizarrely, that blog post was added as an “official citation” on Velard’s Wikipedia page by someone shortly after the post was published, and was only recently removed… so for 5 years or so, this blog seemed inextricably linked to Julian’s online presence) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been following his career with interest.

By way of introduction, Julian Velard is a bit of an old-fashioned throwback to a cooler, more charming time – the guy oozes charisma like Jimmy Dean and Steve McQueen, which actually led to one of my favourite songs of the 00’s, “Jimmy Dean and Steve McQueen”, which I will take any excuse to drop into a post:

JV, a native New Yorker, found success in the UK, and headed over to England for a few years. While there, his latest album “If You Don’t Like It, You Can Leave”, a concept album about the city he was born and raised in began taking shape.

Now, I think upfront I should make a declaration, because this next bit is going to sound completely wanky: I’m not a New Yorker. I’m not even American. I’m a South African transplant living in Australia – even if I have spent some time in New York and walked its streets, I’m by no means a regular.

However, now that the declaration is out of the way: to me, JV is New York. And, probably more than any album of his I’ve heard so far, this album is very much about him. Because of that, it’s also a story about his New York. And, by extension, he’s telling the story of my New York. The way I’ve always imagined it, based on the golden-age images seen in the movies. New York is just so big, so real, even when it’s so far away. Even for people who don’t live there, it’s impossible to imagine life without New York being somewhere out there.

Maybe that’s why, surprisingly, I’ve so easily fallen in love with this album. Even though for New Yorkers, this will no doubt hold an even more special place, the appeal doesn’t stop for “outsiders”. If anything, it’s an invitation to come on in, and enjoy the sights.

The album opens with “New York, I Love It When You’re Mean”, which is a love song to the city that sets the scene for the album beautifully. Throughout the rest of the album, we walk the streets of New York with JV, getting an insider’s view of both the obvious and hidden beauties of the place. And I do mean “walk the streets”, because walking is the mode of real New Yorkers, don’t you know?

The rest of the album is peppered with Cole Porter and Gershwin head nods, which perfectly calls that “golden-age New York” into JV’s “modern New York”; showing they are one and the same, despite the passing of years.

There’s a particular song in amongst these that stands out by its sheer introspection. “Jimmy Young” tells the tale of a piano-bar player from 1967, who JV’s dad says “could have been a star”. Velard draws a comparison to his own career, and – in some ways – it’s heart-breaking. But, like New York itself, Velard embraces who he is, and instead of lamenting the fact, claims and owns the fact that he is Jimmy Young, with the heart-felt outro.

You know, I’ve listened to this album quite a few times this week, and each and every time I listen to it, I hear something new. Some other nod to the past, while bringing it into the future; reconciling the two. Which is why, as I’m typing this, “You Don’t Fall in Love at the Start” is playing, and it feels like I’m finally getting it for the first time. And why, ending with the one-two combo of “That Old Manhattan” (which contains the overt “No one plays Gershwin anymore” line), followed by the Billy Joel cover of “Where’s the Orchestra”, makes all the more sense now.

It’s taken me a few spins to get to this point – but this could be one of my favourite releases of 2014 so far. Below, you can listen to the album in full. Give it a few spins – not one or two, but a few. I suspect it might become one of your favourites too, if you’ll step out onto the streets with Julian,

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