Karen Morand & The Bosco Boys – Ghost Hotel
With a jubilant, pure voice Ontario’s award-winning Karen Morand tackles mature compelling subjects on her new 9-cut collection Ghost Hotel (Drops Feb 1–Independent). Produced by Ms. Morand (vocals/acoustic guitar/keys) & Brett Number (electric guitar/vocals on cuts 1 & 4) the songs “Ghost Hotel,” & “Beautiful Scars,” lead off as fine examples of well-thought-out songwriting executed with drama but not bombast.
The songs don’t present anything new except that they are all performed exceptionally well. It becomes more about how good the artist presents themself than whether they’re making inroads into the musical fabric.
A song like “Beautiful Scars,” is mindful of artists like the late Judee Sill — a penetrating, thoughtful songwriter who wasn’t afraid to explore & fortify. Karen is just that. This has substance & documents how time leaves its mark on a person.
The Bosco Boys join Karen admirably with a cast of fine musicians. A bit rockier is “Locking Down & Out.” Another in a long line of pandemic songs by so many artists but fortunately this doesn’t sound like a song that may later sound dated. It’s constructed with a nod toward isolation & its effects. The crunchy guitar solidifies the atmospheric melody.
Karen’s best on upbeat whiffs such as “Easy.” Her voice is fluid & with the award-winning bluegrass harmonica of Mike Stevens,’ it’s quite distinguished. It rolls along like a decades-long chugging freight train — explores the arc of life, letting go & leaving worries behind.
Ultimately it’s Karen’s voice that’s most attractive. A warm smoky Christine McVie quality. On “Never Enough,” she hits notes that recall the late Eva Cassidy as well. Good stuff, well done, emotive & expressive.
The group is Benny Santoro (drums), Aaron Verhulst (electric-acoustic-pedal steel guitars/mandolin) & Max Marshall (bass/vocals), Justin Latam (electric guitar/vocals), Suzie Vinnick, Gina Norswood & Tamica Nerod (backing vocals).
Karen maintains a distinctive soulful quality. She’s not just a good singer singing words. There’s feeling in every line, pauses, accentuated words, & a southern rock quality – though that genre never intrudes on Karen’s essential tone. She isn’t trying to be a distant cousin of southern belle blues belters. I agree she has an approach similar to the wonderful Linda McRae, but I’d add the prairie mystic Michigan singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer.
Ultimately, what I hear is a creative, original artist whose songs aren’t intense or thought-provoking – but are noticeable & her storytelling flourishes through her melodies. “Coffee,” is a delight with its precise mandolin bluegrass tint. A back porch song – bring a jug, pet a Jack Russell, smile when you speak. You’ll have friends forever.
These songs drain away anxiety. A tender reserve for those in need of escape with a coffee, or a glass of wine & an old book. Take Karen Morand with you, ask her to sing.
Photo courtesy: Trespass/Bandcamp. The 35-minute CD: available @ iTunes + https://www.karenmorand.com/