So pleased to win the Readers' Choice Award for Best Local Band/Vocalist!
Article by Stephen Hu
The Free Lance-Star
June 23 2017
With a notebook full of thoughtful, catchy tunes and Fredericksburg guitar virtuoso Tim Bray (left) by her side, singer-songwriter Karen Jonas had all the ingredients to become the area’s top singer. But touring, motherhood and songwriting leave little time for her to relax.
With tireless touring and smart writing, Karen Jonas has made a mark on the local scene.
The title of Karen Jonas’s most recent album, “Country Songs,” is kind of ironic since Jonas didn’t gain an appreciation for the genre until relatively recently.
“I liked Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon,” said Jonas. “I heard country from the people I ran into and played with and people I’ve dated, which comes out in the title song. Really, I didn’t start listening to country music until recently. I just fell in love with Dwight Yoakam. You really have to get your heart broken before you can appreciate the twangier side of it.”
Along with ’70s singer-songwriters, Jonas’s songs reflect her recent favorites like Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell. Like those artists, her lyrics often tell compelling stories like the Steinbeck-inspired “Oklahoma Lottery” or “The Garden,” a southern gothic tune. “Country Songs” is Jonas’s second album, both of which feature her musical collaborator, guitarist Tim Bray. Bray has a range of skills and embraces everything from surf rock to honky-tonk twang to spacey, atmospheric backgrounds. He and Jonas met when he happened to wander into one of her shows at a local venue.
“I was going to hear one of my students play at an FAA show at Market Square on a Thursday night,” said Bray. “It was super hot and the whole thing was running an hour late. I thought there was music at the Kenmore [Inn] so I went to see what was going on there. The first person I saw there was Andrew Hellier who said Karen was playing. I didn’t know who Karen was at all. I thought it was incredible, and I went and told her so. I sent her a Facebook message just to say I like what you’re doing and keep it up.”
That encouraging message on Facebook led to an invitation for Bray to play on Jonas’s first album. She had reached an artistic impasse with those recording sessions and the addition of Bray changed her sound enough that she decided to scrap all previous takes and record new sessions with him. That partnership has proved successful. Although both Karen Jonas albums feature a four- or five-piece band, she and Bray usually play as a duo. People are often surprised at the big sound the two of them can create on stage.
“A lot of people comment, ‘we thought it was going to be this little folky thing and it was a big sound covering a lot of ground,’ ” said Bray. “We opened for Alabama and two roadies and a sound guy said, ‘holy cow, I can’t believe you guys are doing this as a two piece.’ ”
“This is the style of stuff that he loves to play,” said Jonas. “He provides an ear to listen or helps me if I’m thinking through something without trying to stomp all over it.”
Jonas and Bray have played gigs near and far, mostly sticking to the East Coast. They are one of the hardest working bands in Fredericksburg, keeping up a grueling schedule that had them playing over 250 shows last year. That persistence has earned them a loyal following. Fans made them the winner of The Free Lance—Star’s reader poll for Best Local Band/Vocalist, an honor which delighted Jonas.
“Our music travels around the world and we’re always so proud to call Fredericksburg home,” she said. “We couldn’t ask for a more supportive community. Thanks for listening!”
Jonas is continually collecting ideas for new songs.
“I write a lot of material and it lives in my notebook until I need it,” said Jonas. “I write stuff and don’t really focus on it until it’s time for it to have a life outside of my notebook.”
With the long time between recording and releasing her music, Karen Jonas has already written at least one album worth of new material since “Country Songs” came out last year. Her fans are waiting to hear where her creative muse takes her next.