In 2017, Justine and The Unclean released their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Get Unclean’, a rousing collection of power pop and pop punk oriented material that really helped put singer Justine Couvalt on the map. A follow up EP (2018’s ‘Heartaches & Hot Problems’) brought fans another reason to get excited, proving the band wasn’t just a one-shot deal and also showing that they sounded just as natural when stepping out of their power pop comfort zone and applied their talents to a couple of much harder sounding riffs.
A new project for 2020, Justine’s Black Threads teams Covault with guitarist Jimmy Scoppa and ex-Tarbox Ramblers bassist Johnny Sciascia and explores a stripped back, country-based sound. Opener ‘He Never Reminds Me of You’ tells you everything you need to know about the Black Threads’ rootsy approach, with clean guitars leaning on a heavy twang. It’s easy to be reminded of Elvis’s early output, while an upright bass lending a boom-chicka-boom accompaniment draws more from classic Johnny Cash. Whichever way you choose to look at it, this Black Threads’ recording pays its dues to Sam Phillips and Sun Studios; the music is played with heart and a truckload of love, and in its own retro way the move to country really suits Covault’s distinctive vocal twang.
‘He Stopped Laughing At My Jokes’ isn’t too different musically – Sciascia plays up a storm when slapping at his strings while both Justine and Jim flesh out the sound with well placed strums and noodles. If anything, it’s the vocal melody that stands out, though, as although this is definitely a country tune, a broader sound to the lead voice helps a very Unclean melody shine through. In doing so, you couldn’t mistake this for any other performer, regardless of the style. There’s even something here that could be rocked up for a future Justine And The Unclean EP. ‘The Other Side of A Six Pack’ carries a similar mood, but in many ways, could even be this release’s highlight thanks to some very enthusiastic upright bass work that, again, transports the listener straight back to Johnny Cash’s ‘Orange Blossom Special’ from 1965 and a great vocal from Covault.
Slowing down for a mid-paced bit of heartbreak, ‘You And Me Against You Me’ finds Justine harmonising with Sciascia on a timeless sounding country chorus, before launching into the kind of crying verse that never feels a million miles away from the creaky old tearjerkers from Lorretta Lynn. You’ll find a selection of instantly familiar melodies packed into just two minutes, and with a little more space, the band’s decision to record everything percussion-free really pays off. Closing an enjoyable voyage into a world of of country oriented tunes, Justine puts her own spin on the Sonny Bono/Jack Nietcpenned perennial ‘Needles & Pins’. She wisely opts to cling to the long-familiar melody, but makes it sound like an obvious fit with the EP’s original material by allowing Sciascia’s bass plenty of room to take the lead. You’ll have heard this number played by many people over the years – from The Searchers’ most famous version, to Ramones’ unexpected cover from ’78 – but another version doesn’t hurt, especially when it suits the performer in question. It might even make up for Jorn Lande’s travesty that kicked off 2020 in questionable style…
This EP resurrects a very old and traditional style of country music and, as such, is aimed far more at lovers and followers of Justine Covault’s work than anyone generally on the lookout for a new country release. However, it’s hard to find fault with the end results and Justine’s Black Threads adds a welcome (and unexpected) branch to the Justine And The Unclean family tree. While it mightn’t stand up to too many repeated listens, ‘Cheap Vacation’ should more than provide an entertaining distraction.