Review: Karen Jonas New Release “Butter” Marks an Expansion in Style


The DC area has a growing music scene, with many new clubs and venues opening recently.  What we don’t have are a lot of local musicians.  DC is a hard place to base a national career out of, and both musicians and venue owners tell me that local acts don’t get the best support from concertgoers.  This being the case, I was very excited to have the chance to review Karen Jonas’s new album, Butter.  Jonas is based in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a little more than 50 miles southwest of DC.

Jonas kept it local with Butter.  After putting her kids to bed, the full-time mother of four headed over to Wally Cleaver’s Recording Studio.  If I hadn’t told you that Jonas recorded this album at night after spending her days with four kids, though, you would never suspect it.  Listening to this album, you’d think this was made in a top-of-the-line studio in Nashville on a full-time schedule.  The singing, songwriting, and musicianship are every bit as good as anything coming out of Music City.

Listeners will find that Butter marks an expansion in Jonas’s musical style.  Jonas explores a variety of styles beyond the country that has served as the backbone of her past work.  While fans will still find plenty of pedal steel and B3, Butter includes a diverse collection of songs.  The title track, on which Jonas is backed by a full horn arrangement, is a straight up jazz tune, complete with call-outs to Sinatra.  Horns also play on “Mr. Wonka,” which mixes jazz and a ’60s pop inflection.  The country songs on the album have a pop-rock tint to them, and Jonas describes them as in the style of Tom Petty.

Making an album with so many different styles hang together isn’t easy, but Jonas and her co-producers, Jeff Covert and Tim Bray, pull it off.  Building the album on the metaphor of a circus for her life, the songs form a thematic unity.  We get hints of the metaphor, especially in Butter, where the lyrics that “mama cooks with butter” work to suggest both literal and suggestive meanings.

An album like Butter highlights the differences between country and Americana.  I wouldn’t call Butter ­a country album, because the album is more expansive is than that term suggests.  Americana, suggesting the many different types of roots and traditional music – not just country, but the jazz, swing, and roots rock found here – much better describes the album.  Country music listeners will find a lot to like in this album, but it has a lot to offer a broader audience.  Get your copy, here.

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