MEAWW's Basement Tapes: Juni Ata's 'Saudade' is a hazy folk dream filled with hope for a better tomorrow
The singer wrote these songs with no intention of releasing them, and perhaps that's why they feel like an intimate portrait of one person's journey through healing and moving on
Juni Ata makes his debut with 'Saudade', a deeply emotional journey through eleven tracks from an artiste who wrote his music without any intention of ever sharing it. And thanks to that, what we get on this release is a flow of some of Ata's deepest, most intimate thoughts, sometimes wistful and at other times hopeful, all paired with some beautifully poetic storytelling layered over simple, yet endearing melodies.
'Saudade', pronounced sow-da-day, is a Portuguese word that loosely translated refers to "a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing." For singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Daniel Edwards, the artiste who goes by the moniker Juni Ata, the term holds a deeper meaning. The album bears a sense of melancholic nostalgia, and this beautifully reflects the space these songs were written from.
Hailing from a small town in Southern California with limited exposure to secular music, Edwards only really encountered contemporary and popular sounds in his 20s. But music was always a part of his life, long before he got to experience other styles. As he embarked on a musical journey, Edwards went from busking with his brother to working with John Prine's manager Al Bunetta in Nashville, and the two continued to collaborate until Bunetta's untimely passing in 2015.
The next two years would prove to be immensely painful for Edwards, as he would find himself coping with the loss of his beloved mother and the breakdown of a relationship. So deep was his pain, he abandoned his dreams of a professional music career, opting instead to write music purely for himself.
But now, nearly a decade since he first began putting this release together, Edwards' full-length album sees the light of day. It wasn't an easy road getting from where he's been to where he finds himself now but after a little convincing from a friend and producer Jake Rossowog, Edwards decided he was ready to try his hand at music once more. In 2018, he enlisted the help of Steve Cropper and recorded 'Saudade' at the legendary RCA Studio C.
Yet, he still had no real intention of releasing the album, instead tucking it away and going on the road, managing artistes like Morrissey and Lucinda Williams. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Edwards' day job came to a halt. After all, there's no space for a road manager if no one's on the road. But Edwards was awarded with the greatest gift of all in the interim: time. And in that time, the spark was finally ignited for the artiste in Edwards to rise and give 'Saudade' the release it deserved.
The album opens with 'Philadelphia', a poignant track about moving on. The song gently sets the tone for the rest of the release, and really gives the listener a sense of how truly cathartic the process of creating this album has been for Edwards. The following track 'Fight Hard, Run Fast' has the singer embrace his own healing process, allowing himself to experience what he needs to in order to find the light at the end of the darkness.
Beginning just as gently as 'Philadelphia', 'Fight Hard, Run Fast' offers a stunning build-up that has you riding along with Edwards as he makes his way forward. Tracks such as 'Good Enough Ain’t Bad', 'When It Rains In LA', and 'I’ll Try Anything Twice' feature driving rhythms and infectious pop sensibilities that are refreshing and could have found their way into a mid-90’s FM playlist. 'Hard Letting You Down Easy' offers a breathtaking solo performance with just Edwards and his piano, and then shifts gears with the album's inspirational, gospel-infused closer, 'Not Going Anywhere', a song of indomitable desire about owning the choices we make.
Despite 'Saudade' being Edwards' attempt to embrace downtrodden themes, the music is filled with a vibrant buoyancy. It may have taken a global pandemic's push for 'Saudade' to finally find its way out into the world, but for both its listeners and its creator, this album has come at the perfect time. After all, it’s an album that reckons with a decade of heartbreak and loss, and yet, it’s not a cry of defeat. These are spirit songs, full of courage and catharsis, pointing to a better tomorrow.
'MEAWW's Basement Tapes' is a column that shines a spotlight on undiscovered/underrated musical gems