Karen Jonas’ career has followed the pattern of the past and shows why artists were given time to develop and not expected to seize millions of sales and fame on their first release. Her first solo album ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ contained gems but was rough around the edges with Jonas still finding her sound. Follow up album ‘Country Songs’ showed even more development with stronger songs and an added confidence to Jonas’ vocals. ‘Butter’ shows that Jonas (vocals/ acoustic guitar) and guitarist Tim Bray have made a stellar album that finds everything taken to another level from the wonderful vocals of Jonas to the added instrumentation. With all 10 songs written by Jonas, she establishes herself as one of the best singer-songwriters in my world right now.
Lead song ‘Yellow Brick Road’ gets things started with an up tempo Country song crossed with some Soft Rock. On your first listen of the album, you might think this is the best singing you have heard from Jonas, and I will tell you that you will think this during all 10 songs. ‘My Sweet Arsonist’ is Country perfection with beautiful piano touches and a wonderful chorus that will burrow its way deep inside your head with each listen. I positively love the down and dirty 1940’s Chicago style horns by Zachary Smith, Steve Patterson, and Dan Haverstock on the title track and the sultry, Jazz infused vocals that I imagine would have Dinah Washington patting Jonas on the back. Bray provides a killer solo here that perfectly compliments the song. Jay Starling’s piano work shines bright here. ‘Gospel Of The Road’ deserves to be heard far and wide on Country radio, Roots radio, and Classic Rock radio. This song hits the soul hard with Jonas wrestling the happiness of homelife with the happiness of playing shows on the road. It has occurred to me that I might not hear another song for the rest of the year that taps into the magic of this one. I would love to see her make a video for this one. Heck, I think I have a treatment for one in my head now.
Jonas shows new dimensions to her vocals across this album with the initial verse of ‘Kamikaze Love’ finding her singing with an intentionally tentative, delicate touch and then adds power as the song’s power increases. Backing vocals by Jeff Covert are subtle but add tremendous depth with Bray again standing out on the guitar throughout the song. The downhome traditional ragtime feel of ‘Oh Icarus’ is a testament to Jonas’ growth as a vocalist. She sings the notes effortlessly, and I find it easy to imagine everyone in the studio staring at her in awe as she lays down these vocals. The old time Country electric guitar introduces the 70’s infused Country crooner ‘Mama’s First Rodeo,’ as Jonas throws a warning out to those that might blow smoke her way. Clever lyrics here highlight that this record label man still has the tags on his western shirt, revealing how fake he is before he opens his mouth.
Reaching the final turn of the album, a quiet acoustic guitar and a killer soft vocal introduce the waltz of ‘Dance With Me,’ and Jonas puts on another clinic of how to deliver an amazing vocal that will make the hair on your arms stand. ‘Mr. Wonka’ addresses an individual who promised big things and then revealed himself to be nothing more than a loser whose label missed out on a chance to have the album of the year. The horns add great touches and make an incredible song even better. There is an emotional weight with last song ‘The Circus’ that at times reminds me of the way ‘The Dance’ on Garth Brooks’ ‘No Fences’ album touched the soul.
Jonas’ growth from album to album has been remarkable, and, while it is still early, I will go ahead and declare this the first classic album in her career. From the first note on this album to the last, I am entranced by what Jonas has done here in telling a story that leaves us begging for more. The best remedy for that I have found is to play all 10 songs again… and then keep repeating. I was positive that Wade Bowen’s latest would be my Country album of the year at the midpoint of the year, but this one might have just surpassed it and is an album of the year contender regardless of genre.