Karen Jonas - 'The Southwest Sky And Other Dreams' Album Review
1. The Last Cowboy (At The Bowling Alley)
2. Out In Palm Tree Paradise
4. Pink Leather Boots
5. Maybe You'd Hear Me Then
6. Be Sweet To Me
7. Farmer John
8. Barely Breathing
9. Better Days
10. Don't Blink Honey
I might need to preface this review by saying that Karen Jonas has been an artist who has just become better and better for my tastes. Her last proper new album ‘Butter’ is one of my favorite albums of all time. All that said, I think it puts higher expectations on new albums, especially following up an album that is so loved. ‘Butter’ had found Jonas taking her sound into some different areas as she adeptly avoids being pigeonholed into one genre. For her new album, she has taken a bit of another turn and released another album that I already love without repeating the past. ‘The Southwest Sky And Other Dreams’ feels like opening a collection of short stories of engaging characters and locales that we just cannot stop reading.
‘The Southwest Sky And Other Dreams’ has more of an overall western feel as one might suspect from the name, but Jonas continues to do things on her own terms. Her musical partner Tim Bray (electric guitar) has been with her across all these albums, and their musical chemistry together really brings everything together. Opening song ‘The Last Cowboy (At The Bowling Alley)’ serves as our opener as the acoustic guitar (Jonas) conjures images of a small town filled with dirt roads and tumbleweeds. Jonas' voice is extremely unique as it has a dreamy quality and is one that constantly makes the hair on my arms stand because it is so exquisite. Our opening character feels like someone we know by the first chorus. ‘Out In Palm Tree Paradise’ reminds me a bit musically of Gram Parsons. Lyrically, Jonas really shines on this album too with lines like ‘are you still wrestling with religion or did you kick that with the booze? Did you find a new reason to sing the worried man’s blues? I know that life is never easy but you sure make yours hard.’ The electric guitar work here by Bray shines and the last vocal run by Jonas is excellent. The rhythm team of Seth Morrissey (bass) and Seth Brown (drums) power ‘Tuesday’ along with a great beat. Jonas sings with a lower tone here as our lead character in this song is living life with the candle burning at both ends.
‘Pink Leather Boots’ features some great bass work by Morrissey with the track having more of a rockabilly flair that recalls the also excellent Lindi Ortega. The guitar work here is excellent all the way around with the bridge perfectly setting up the final chorus. The end of the first half of the album arrives in the form of ‘Maybe You’d Hear Me Then’ which is a beautiful ballad with some great pedal steel by Tom Hnatow. Jonas sings this in a way that the hurt the character feels is palpable and transcends the song.
Opening up the second half of the album, Jonas opts for some old school classic Rock 'n Roll in the form of ‘Be Sweet To Me.’ Bray shines again here with some great guitar work with Jonas channeling some higher power in these vocals. The shift from the attitude of ‘Be Sweet To Me’ to the dark, desolate ‘Farmer John’ could not be more different. The dark clouds in the sky cut through the sonic landscape here as we are left to draw our own conclusions of what happened to Farmer John… and it is not good. The increasing intensity musically by the band could not be better here. The soft acoustic opening of ‘Barely Breathing’ again creates some great musical dynamics. I am a bit of a broken record here, but the vocals by Jonas here are magical and perhaps the best she has ever put on record.
Our closing pair of the album arrive way too soon. ‘Better Days’ picks up the tempo a bit and feels like the sun is shining on the town but not on the character in the song. She longs for her better days when the challenges and pitfalls of her world will fall away so the struggle is not so real. Despite the darkness, Jonas sings as someone who is determined to make it through and get past these times that she has largely created for herself. The dreamy ‘Don’t Blink Honey’ brings the album to a close way too soon. The song picks up the pace a bit near the end and leaves the listener wanting more. Jonas has perfected the classic 10 song album throughout her career with ‘Butter’ having the perfect closer, and this new album following suit with ‘Don’t Blink Honey.’
It is criminal that Jonas is not a household name yet. She is a stellar songwriter that deserves recognition, and her voice is an elixir for the heart and soul. As I mentioned in the intro, her last album ‘Butter’ is one of my favorite albums of all time, and I am happy to say that I could see this one following suit. It is of course too soon to be able to make such a proclamation as that comes with time and many listens. This will be one of my top albums of 2020 though, and one that I will play so often it becomes ingrained in me.
‘The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams’ is available now.
Website - http://www.karenjonasmusic.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/karenjonasmusic
Review - Gerald Stansbury