REVIEW: Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “Karma For Cheap” Mixes Brit and Heartland Influences


When I read interviews with Aaron Lee Tasjan in which he talked about emphasizing his Britpop influences on Karma For Cheap (New West),  produced and recorded by Jeffrey Trott and Gregory Lattimer (and featuring Sheryl Crow), I was concerned. This summer, several albums by roots/Americana artists have come out that have stretched the boundaries of the genre, emphasizing ’80s pop sounds and synthesizers. I worried that Karma For Cheap, although released by someone classified as “roots,” wouldn’t really belong there.

I am happy to say that my worries have proven unfounded. Yes, you can hear a Beatles influence, to a degree on Karma For Cheap. The Beatles’ influence on popular music is incredibly pervasive. If we disqualified everything we could hear them in from the roots/Americana tent, I have a feeling that tent wouldn’t be so big anymore. It’s not like Tasjan is purely channeling the Beatles, anyway. In his vocals, and in the harmonies, you can hear his other major influence, Tom Petty, just as much. Other sounds creep in: the opening riff of “Heart Slows Down” recalls the beginning of The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight.”

If you’re going to incorporate pop sounds, you might as well make use of the very best. On Karma for Cheap, Aaron Lee Tasjan has done that, while shunning the excesses of electronic music and overdone synthesizers that can bedevil pop-influenced projects. And if Karma for Cheap is pop, it’s a least as much heartland rock, Tom Petty and Jakob Dylan. Of the many unconventional Americana releases this season, Karma For Cheap is far from the most unconventional. It’s a delightful sounding, smartly written album that Tasjan’s fans will enjoy and new listeners will be happy to discover.  Check it out, here:

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