Karen Jonas – Restless
Virginia native Karen Jonas has composed 11 dreamy/dark alternative-country confessional tunes & establishes them with an exploration of affection, vulnerability & liberation. Ms. Jonas is known for her more literate style lyrics & this — her 6th LP she continues to shape songs into stories & tales with pinches of doom, fodder for nostalgia, with imaginative shadowy atmospheric hues. Maybe not quite Tom Waits but somewhat like a latter-day country-tinged Rickie Lee Jones.
Karen delivers some tunes with a jazzy slap, whispers with whiskey-laced lips & nicotine breath, the trysts are mysterious & a little provocative & where there’s more city in a woman’s dress than out on the streets. Her voice is not pitched into the nasty saucy confines of subterranean deviancy, so she sings more in a manner of a disembodied narrator than a participant. It works.
Nonetheless what’s compelling is that few singers now tread these waters. As dark as “Paris Breeze,” could be, its catchy galloping drums keep it anchored in a commercial mainstream fervor with greasy guitar licks.
Then, instead of continuing with a dark tone “The Breakdown,” is more soulful from its vocal tonality to its guitars. From Paris down to the Delta, Karen’s intonation & phrasing is sharp. Her voice isn’t as aggressive as a singer like The Shangri-Las’ Mary Weiss, but she has the determined feminist tone of Lesley Gore that seeps between the notes.
The 11-cut Restless (Drops March 3–Independent) was produced & arranged in Virginia by Seth Morrissey (bass/percussion/acoustic guitar/harmony) & Karen Jonas (vocals/acoustic guitar). The sound for the most part is retro – lots of echo on songs like “Elegantly Wasted,” is lyrically decorous but its early 60s commercial resonance is what gives it lift. In 2023 it may not perk up the ears of young ears toiling between Beyonce & Taylor Swift. “That’s Not My Dream Couch,” has clever lyrics but the music is set in a C&W guitar motif that is more nostalgic than contemporary.
With a slower tune “Forever,” Karen shines bright as a songwriter & storyteller. Her voice & the accompaniment is stellar. Appropriate for the genre. Solidly arranged is “Rock the Boat,” & though Karen uses treated vocals at the open she doesn’t rely on the gimmick. The songs are not filled with cliches, they’re intelligently written & though some are typical Karen smartly infuses each with well-chiseled performances that give the song’s character. Her best vocal is on “Drunken Dreamer,” with her various tonalities & deep dives that give it punch along the tinkling saloon-like piano.
Highlights- “Paris Breeze,” “The Breakdown,” “Forever,” “Rock the Boat,” “Drunken Dreamer” & “Lay Me Down.”
Musicians – Tim Bray (electric guitar), Jay Starling (dobro/piano/keyboards), Colin Thompson (slide guitars), Seth Brown, Ben Tufts & Jeff Mills (drums) & Dustin Brandt & Andie Burke (harmony vocals).
Color image courtesy of Big Hassle PR. CD Samples & available @ Bandcamp. CD @ http://www.karenjonasmusic.com/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Song Premiere: Karen Jonas “Paris Breeze”