Written By Noelle Simeon Photo by Ajamu X
If you looked up each member of Big Joanie, you might think of it as a side project because these ladies are changing the world. Stephanie Phillips (main vocals/ guitar) is a journalist and author of 2021’s Why Solange Matters; Chardine Taylor-Stone (drums/backing vocals) was the vice chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee of UK’s Musician’s Union in 2021 and is an activist in both racial and LGBTQI. Estella Adeyeri (bass/backing vocals), who co-started the Decolonise Fest with Stephanie, is the Communications Coordinator for Good Night Out, works with the Girls Who Rock group in London, and is also writing a book on Black feminism. To say I was intimidated to write a review of these prolific women’s bands is an understatement, but here goes.
Big Joanie’s sophomore album, Back Home, haunted me for days after my initial listen. Clearly influenced by the ’90s, their sound could be described as a cross between Brittany Howard and The Cure, though they are labeled a punk band. What is so punk about Big Joanie is the women themselves: three Black feminists who are expressive, creative, and daring to take up space in a patriarchal world that hasn’t traditionally made room for them.
Playing with the definitions of home, both the title and the cover art express this theme in beautiful ways. The cover, a picture of Chardine’s nephew getting his hair clipped, is portrayed in a delicate embroidery style (artist Angelica Ellis). This depicted an everyday familiarity in the Black culture of the barbershop and was intentionally reminiscent of art found in homes of Caribbean workers in the UK after WWII, linking them back to their home country. With the title, Back Home, Stephanie says, “We were really ruminating on the idea of a home and what it means. It’s about the different ideas of home, whether here in the UK, back in Africa or the Caribbean, or a place that doesn’t exist; it’s neither here nor there.”
Back Home opens with “Cactus Tree,” an energetic and soulful track with big bass drums filling each section. At the same time, the call-and-response vocals make you want to sing along.
Like a 3-piece story, “Taut,” “Confident Man,” and “What Are You Waiting For” tell the ups and downs of accepting your flaws, navigating womanhood in a man’s world, and finally, pushing yourself to be what you want. “
“In My Arms” is a fun, beachy tune of longing for someone, even if you know it may not work out.
Expressing the pain of an abusive relationship, “Your Words” raw lyrics and building synths paint what could be an abusive partner or even an abusive society. “Today” is an almost twangy tune of begging to feel important. “Count to Ten” feels childlike in its lyrical innocence of hope and its videogame theme song sound.
Songs “Happier Still” and “Insecure” juxtapose heavy topics of depression and the insecurities that come with feeling left behind in life with punk-like riffs and a cute-sounding drum machine.
The last three songs, “I Will,” “In My Arms (reprise),” and “Sainted,” smoothly transition in and out of each other, creating an illusion of one continuous track. “I Will” tells of when things are falling apart, but you still want to hang on, with Stephanie singing, “I write your name up on the wall/ and tear it down/there’s not a road that I won’t cross/I’ll tear it down.” Without missing a beat, we immediately go to “In My Arms (reprise),” a melancholic version of the original we heard earlier on the album.
Closing us out is the synth-driven “Sainted,” which plays with the meaning of what can be seen as sacred, maybe even after it is dead.
Back Home is a poetic and creative album. It is moody and brooding and encapsulates the magic that is Big Joanie. I cannot say enough good things, except Back Home came out on November 4th!