Jus Post Bellum – “Oh July”

Sarah draws comparisons to Shovels and Rope, The Civil Wars, and The Head and The Heart on the new Jus Post Bellum record.

Sarah Weitman

7.5
out of 10

Jus Post Bellum
Oh July
November 12, 2013
Self Released

Jus Post Bellum, Latin for “justice after war,” is a fitting name for a band whose songs are influenced heavily by American history and specifically the Civil War. This can be seen the artwork and heard in the songs for their newest album Oh July, through Crash Avenue.

Upon first listen, they give the impression of Shovels and Rope (but softer) or The Civil Wars, though probably closer to The Head and the Heart’s new album. Comprised of Geoffry Wilson (lead vocals, guitar, keys and horn), Hannah Jensen (vocals and percussion), Zach Dunham (drums, percussion, vocals) and Daniel Bieber (upright bass, cello, vocals), they sound as though they are from the Virginia highlands about to go to war 120 years ago, rather than present day Minnesota (where most are from) or Brooklyn (where they live now).

“Gimme that Gun” is an acapella intro, descending melody intro to . With minimal instrumental accompaniment it puts one in the traditional folk mindset. Love as a recurring theme is presented: “Said that you’re in love with another man/Said you’re leaving me for him/…I won’t ask no questions/Just gimme that gun.” As opposed to the title being a demand or a threat, it’s revealed as a request. “Oh July” is definitely a favorite from the album. Jensen and Wilson’s harmonies are faultless. The Civil War theme begins to make an appearance, with references to calvary, Yankee boys, woolen suits, muskets, and raising of a flag, all within half of verse. This is one of the most well written songs I’ve heard in a while. It’s more of a story than an actual song. The story continues with “Sonny” (about a Union soldier who’s been missing, likely run away to go home, because he doesn’t feel the war is necessary) and “Sharp was the River Bending” (about a soldier who’s part of a never ending war, waiting to get back to his love). “For the Broken Hearted” is about the waiting, not just the soldier, but the other side, his love left behind. “Call to My Jesus” taps into the faith of Americans at the time, especially the soldiers. The music and the harmonies contribute to a feeling of comfort to the tragedy that is this song. Listening through a few times to catch lyrics, I realized exactly how sad this song is. The singer begins by being alone while fighting in war, remembers getting married and losing his baby daughter to fever and his wife (“And with every new beginning/Well my lover she lost her ending”). Much like at the end of the war, “Tell Me Mama,” at the end of this album, is a soldier vocalizing that he is ready for war to be over and to come home to be with his love, duty be damned. I would describe “Measure of a Man” as sounding jaunty, almost like a soldier’s thoughts as he’s walking those last steps home to surprise his family: “I’m love and I’m coming without warning.” But there are still thoughts of if he was able to measure up (to expectations or as a hero maybe).

One of my two complaints is that some songs can be repetitious, and take effort to get through on the first listen, like “Gimme that Gun,” “Call to My Jesus,” and “Lake Minnesota.” I could handle it for a while, but then I wanted the song to move forward (which it would do). My other complaint was the oddness of “It’s a Shame.” I actually love the song, but I was expecting 1870s, and was weirded out a little when I heard 1970s.

Overall however, the album is the exact opposite of my complaints. It’s not repetitive at all, there’s something new around every corner. Every time I’ve listened, I’ve hear something I missed before or related to it in a completely different way. Their harmonies are some of the best that I’ve heard and when combined with the lyrics, Oh July is a beautifully presented album. I’m a fan of albums that tell a story over their course, and beyond the overarching war tale, there’s a second, more modern tale underneath. One where you don’t have to be a soldier, a soldier’s wife, or wearing woolen gray or blue suits or a petticoat to connect to.

-Sarah Weitman, November 25, 2013