2. Lovesick Blues
3. Oklahoma Lottery
5. It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry
7. Country Songs
8. Wasting Time
9. River Song
11. Gospel Of The Road
Karen Jonas returns with her fourth album as she mostly revisits earlier material and gives them a new twist that showcases what an amazing artist she is. Her previous album ‘Butter’ found Jonas bringing in more diverse elements to her sound so that she cannot be pigeonholed into any specific genre. This really allows Jonas flexibility to do whatever she wants at this point, so while some of the earlier material may have stronger hints of Country and Americana, it remains only a portion of her sonic palette. Jonas’ voice is all her own where she can transition from soft and delicate to powerful and fierce when needed. Simply put, more people need to check out this album as well as her back catalog as she deserves to be heard.
‘Ophelia’ races out of the gates with a two step fury after Jonas warns us to hang onto our hats. When I reviewed previous album ‘Butter’ last year, I mentioned how much Jonas had grown as a performer since her first album. ‘Ophelia’ originally appeared on her second album at a slightly more reserved pace, and the charisma, confidence, and personality of Jonas on this new version shines through and shows what spending 200 nights or more a year playing will do for you. We get treated to an excellent cover of 70 year-old classic ‘Lovesick Blues’ where Jonas incorporates some yodeling, and I am quite sure Hank Williams would approve of her version. These two songs provide a more Country music start to the album as we then go into the title track of her first album ‘Oklahoma Lottery.’ The instrumentation has been pulled back here to really focus on Tim Bray (guitar) and Jonas (vocals/ guitar) to give the song a more haunting feel than the original that transcends genres. I believe I could put this on multiple radio formats without anyone questioning it. The guitar work by Bray is awesome, especially the solo. There is a feeling to this song now where it actually reminds me at times of ‘Indifference’ by Pearl Jam. The narrative in the song also highlights how talented Jonas is at spinning stories that make the listener “feel” the song and care about the characters.
‘Lucky’ brings in some delicate drum work, but Bray’s electric guitar licks again shine as Jonas sings from her soul with passion and fire over the acoustic framework of the song. Jonas covers Bob Dylan’s ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry’ with a very soft touch. There is a vulnerability in the vocal that is palpable. This song needs to be experienced more in the darkness of night than during the bright light of day. ‘Butter’ serves as an excellent follow up with its seductive acoustic jazzy swing. While I loved the horns on last year’s version from the album of the same name, this version feels more like Karen and Tim are playing it in your kitchen as you get ready to serve up the drinks.
Title track of her second album ‘Country Songs’ takes us back to the honky tonk bar and really reminds us of the range Jonas has as a performer. She does not set up moments in songs for a big note, instead, she crafts songs where she can sing with different nuances throughout the entire song that feel entirely natural and powerful. Perhaps the best way I can describe it here and on her past album is that it feels like she is singing directly to you as opposed to everyone. I could probably write a 1,000 words on the next song ‘Wasting Time’ as that was one of the moments from her second album that just resonated with me and demonstrated the amazing abilities Jonas has as a singer and a performer. This acoustic version loses none of the power of the original and remains a breathtaking song. The high notes that Jonas hits as part of this song are incredible. They never fail to raise the hair on my arms with the song following a bit of a power ballad dynamic as it builds to a crescendo before it eases back down for the end of the song. The closing guitar work by Bray again needs to be recognized as they add so much to the song.
‘River Song’ again takes us back to Jonas’ first record again with the narrative matched perfectly to the acoustic music. There is no big hook here; it is much more subtle than that. This is another spot where the growth of Jonas as a performer is very evident as the song has understandably changed over the course of the past several years. ‘Money’ turns up the pace for really the first time since ‘Ophelia’ as Jonas’ vocals jump out of the speakers as she details the necessity of money to buy the basics but also reminds us of all the things that money cannot buy. The guitar picking by Bray shines again here. Closer ‘Gospel Of The Road’ from last year’s ‘Butter’ is another song that immediately grabbed me last year and contains every bit of magic in this stripped down acoustic format. The listener hangs on every word as Jonas lays out the triumphs and heartbreaks of what she does. There are the highs of the road and the shows but also the lows of missing home, children, and family as part of the path she has chosen. With only the acoustic guitar and vocal for much of the song, this is extremely powerful with the closing line falling somewhere between a whisper and singing. This is the sound of an artist whose heart and soul bleed for music.
While a few might moan that this is not an album of new material, the fresh takes on these songs are quite simply amazing and need to be heard. Jonas continues to give all she has as an artist, and, as listeners, the rewards for us are amazing. This album, much like the upcoming redux of ‘A Graveyard Of Empty Bottles’ by Tyla’s Dogs D’amour make me question my own rule where I do not consider albums of remakes eligible for album of the year inclusion. Both albums will perhaps be in their own list at the end of the year, but the simple truth is this- I cannot recommend this album enough if you are looking for some amazing songs from an outstanding artist that has transcended into a class all by herself.
‘Lucky, Revisited’ is available for preorder now https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/karenjonas/lucky-revisited
Website - http://www.karenjonasmusic.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/karenjonasmusic/
Review - Gerald Stansbury