Packsaddle Road is singer/songwriter Juliane Gardner's self-released first album, and is very much the Castine, Maine native's own there-and-back-again tale.

The 12-track CD boasts a standard mix of jazz instruments, give or take a mandolin here and there. Gardner, herself, plays acoustic guitar, piano and sings her own backups. Bass guitar and drums provide jazzy and sometimes funkified variations on what may normally be classified as folk songs.

But that's the thing. It's hard to put a label on this music, for as soon as Gardner's voice comes ringing into "Today," the very first track on the album, it becomes clear to the listener that this artist has more to offer than songs about peace and broken hearts. At the heart of Gardner's music is a small-town sensibility-the kind that infects her personal interactions with the rest of the world. There is no safe distance in her songs-instead there is a reminder that if it can happen to someone else, it might as well be happening to you.

This sensibility manifests profoundly in "Sugar Grove," a song about the suicide of a young man. Gardner's lyrics "All is quiet and the streets are empty/the boys and girls are sent home early/and if you're quiet and listen closely/you can hear him soar above Sugar Grove," make it less a song about suicide and more about how a personal tragedy can affect an entire community.

Gardner's gift as a songwriter is that she carries this small-town perspective everywhere she goes, observing and conversing with strangers as if they were members of the same community. In "Southbound Train," probably the catchiest and most upbeat song on the album, she demonstrates that small communities can be found anywhere, even on a train taking her away from her home for a very long time.
The album is a bit over produced in places-particularly on "Better Off," the last track on the album. However, underneath all the bells and whistles, this song showcases Gardner's voice at it's most fluid and versatile and reminds us that she is as much a product of the rap and funk of the 90's, as she is of the folk songs of the 60's and the jazz of the 30's and 40's. When Gardner performs this song live it is with a charged angry energy that she lacks in the studio-an energy that marks her as a dynamic live performer who isn't bound by the trappings of feel-good folk music.

Gardner has a fine group of musicians backing her up on Packsaddle and they do an admirable job of lending depth and an appropriate atmosphere to her songs. The mandolin on "Time Spent With Me" is wonderful homage to folk music's bluegrass influences, the tenor sax highlights Gardner's startling vocal range on "Should Be Prayin'" and the twangy pedal steel on "Southbound Train" seems to come straight out of Sixth Street in Austin. However, it is when Gardner is stripped down to her guitar and that fluid voice-such as on the tracks "Gabriel" and "If I Could"-that she is at her finest. While her voice accompanied by just her guitar is sometimes heartbreakingly reminiscent of Patti Cathcart from Tuck & Patti, Gardner is also proof that sometimes less is more.

Gardner's life experiences manifest themselves in the songs on Packsaddle Road, her imagination fills in the gaps of what she doesn't know, and the result is a collection of deeply poetic and personal stories-sometimes about herself, sometimes about her friends and sometimes about complete strangers. But, the songs on this album aren't the kinds of songs that get stuck in your head. Rather, it's Gardner's voice-that voice that is sometimes crystal and sometimes the smoke hanging in the air at the downtown bar-that follows us around, urging us out of our private reveries, and illuminating the very darkest corners of our day.

--Kate Gerteis, review for Face Magazine

Kate Gerteis is a freelance writer living in Bucksport.
---Lucky Clark/Disc-Chat 20
Brand New Maine Singer-Songwriter Releases Strong Debut CD: "Packsaddle Road"
(For the 6/26/03 issue of "Northern Light")

What I really love about this job is the fact that I get to hear a lot of great new talent...such is the case with this week's offering by Juliane Gardner...who just released her first CD entitled "Packsaddle Road" on her own Shore Road Music label (P.O. Box 1, Castine, ME 04421 or What I enjoy about this lovely young woman is her rich, warm mezzo-soprano/alto voice and her jazz/folk blend of music...These 12 tracks, all penned by Gardner, feature her fine acoustic guitar (she even plays piano on the 6-minute+ "Should Be Prayin," which is a powerful song, as well) and she's backed by some equally talented musicians...This CD is a gem!

(For the 6/27/03 issue of "WHP")

....All told, here's another fine female singer-songwriter on the Maine scene to join the likes of Anni Clark and Anne Dodson...check her out, she's good!
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