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Julie Roberts (video stills)

MEN AND MASCARA   •  Julie Roberts

"Men and mascara always run," sings Julie Roberts on the title track of her sophomore release. That line pretty much sums up the main theme of this unapologetically tearful and melancholy country record.

There are zero happy endings or neat wrap-ups to be found in the dozen songs here, which make them feel more like real life than much of the cracker barrel fantasy in country music these days. Throughout the disc, Roberts plays variations of the steel magnolia, bravely dealing with troublesome men and doomed relationships.

(video still from "Wake Up Older")

In the deceptively titled "Smile," she's resigned to be the forgotten one ("She's on your mind and you shine in her eyes / When I see you smile it almost makes me cry"). "Paint and Pillows" finds her refusing to be wooed back into an unfaithful lover's arms ("Everything she touched belonged to me / And I don't want no tainted anything / The life we built baby you killed in just one night"). The jilted woman in "The First To Never Know" is on a freedom ride, headed for anywhere but back to the domestic hell where she "put her dreams on hold." The other woman in "A Bridge That's Burning" finally gives her lover an ultimatum of it's her or me via the memorable line "I won't step on a bridge that's burning." And "That Ain't A Crime," the album's bleakest moment, finds Roberts accepting her role as a romantic prisoner ("I know you're gone / I just can't move on / Cause your memory is chained to my mind / That ain't a crime").

Tapping into a vein once inhabited by done-wrong women singers like Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn, Roberts has created that increasingly rare thing in modern music--a mood record.

If you like your country old school, and you're looking to sit for a spell in a place where hearts are broken and bitter, and tears leave "little black rivers" on a face, this album's for you.
• Bill DeMain

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