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Gretta Ziller - 'Judas Tree'
“I don’t want to do the same thing twice,” says homegrown singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gretta Ziller. As expansive sophomore studio album Judas Tree attests, it’s much more than a mantra.
Gretta Ziller’scritically-lauded debut album Queen of Boomtown (2017) was long-listed for the Australian Music Prize, and was nominated for The Age Music Victoria Awards. Ziller has been an APRA Professional Development finalist, garnered two Golden Guitar nominations, and has performed at Australian Music Week.
Judas Tree finds Ziller ranging far and wide over the sonic landscape, pushing her uniquely expressive voice, kaleidoscopic sound, and deft songwriting skills to dizzying new heights.
“I’m a trained vocalist, and with this album, I wanted to prove that,” Ziller says.
An exhilarating departure from the softer Americana poise of Queen of Boomtown, Judas Tree deploys richly layered guitar-driven sounds, building on Ziller’s roots in blues, rock, jazz, and pop.
“I wanted to start at ‘Whiskey Shivers’ from Queen of Boomtown: that was my base song, sonically,” Ziller explains. “We wanted to have that big, full, really layered sound.”
The result is an album that draws from many wellsprings: desert rock, psych, power pop, and more, capturing the sounds of inspirations from Rag’n’Bone Man to Bishop Briggs. The result is an 11-track songbook that frequently defies categorisation.
“I’m not turtley enough for the turtle club,” Ziller jokes of her stylistic allegiances. “I come from country roots: I’m proud of the fact that I write like a country writer, because country songwriters are fantastic. But my sound isn’t country. I wanted to explore the foundation of me, while keeping my country songwriter’s influence.”
An eloquent demonstration of Ziller’s storied hand as a writer, Judas Tree is an impassioned document of hearts bruised, broken, and steeled by adversity.
The product of a fertile period of writing and touring on the back of Queen of Boomtown, Judas Tree was produced by the in-demand Paul Ruske, with engineering by Richard Stolz (Tones & I, Tash Sultana, Paul Kelly, Husky) and Richard Dodd (Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison). Also featured is Americana peer Jen Mize on backing vocals and cello.
Shivering with soul, the first single lifted from Judas Tree,‘Unlikely Believer’ (2020), offered an intoxicating insight into the album as a whole. Tearaway second single ‘Fan the Fire’ is an irresistible anthem of defiance, and finds Ziller shouldering the mantle of festival main stage floor-filler as never before.
‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’weds slide guitar to a gauzy haze of electric guitar tones as Ziller confronts a faithless lover, building to a cathartic, squalling climax, while the ominous ‘Judas Tree’ thunders with apocalyptic drums and tectonic desert rock guitars. At the heart of the album is supercharged guitar-pop entry ‘Stockholm’, with its storm of keys and buzzsaw guitars.
There’s a bleakly majestic blues-rock entry in the sinuous ‘Cinder Ash & Ruin’ – a mounting maelstrom of layered guitars and one of Ziller’s most powerful vocal deliveries to date – before the ethereal ‘Jericho’ lands, shivering and swelling with feeling, providing the album’s clearest moment of stillness and introspection.
‘My little rebellions are getting too grand,’Ziller sings on stirring piano ballad ‘Dry Town’, before the 90s-hued ‘Damage Done’ arrives with its raw, low-slung guitars and angular percussion. There’s a garage soul sway in ‘Over My Head’, before album closer ‘Dear Love Letter’ sees Ziller signing off with an engrossing, song of reflection.
A study in songwriting mastery, incomparable vocal power, and stylistic expansion, Judas Tree is an unmissable monument to invention, re-invention, and vision.