Local singer-songwriter Karen Jonas is smooth like 'Butter'

by Stephen Hu

It was a busy 2017 for Fredericksburg’s foremost alt-country artists Karen Jonas and Tim Bray. They played over 150 shows, recorded a new album, and Jonas had a baby boy. The new album, “Butter,” will be released at a show Friday at The Kenmore Inn. The sessions for the album stretched out from January 2017 all the way through the beginning of this year.

“It was nice to have that time to listen and reflect every week on what we had done,” said Jonas. “We undid a lot of things and changed our minds. We had the opportunity to do that because we had time to think about it.”

“We would record after she put the kids to bed and I got off of work,” said Bray. “We would get there at 8 some nights and be out by 10:30 … Karen encouraged me to think through my parts a lot more. Most of the songs from the last album, we had been out playing live. It was new for me not to have the performance angle under my belt when you go in the studio and to come up with stuff on the spot. Karen did a great job of parsing all the instruments out.”

“Butter” covers a lot of new musical territory for Jonas and Bray. The songs have a variety of moods and styles. The title song has a swing feel, which is accentuated with a horn section arranged and led by Zack Smith of the Dixie Power Trio. Jonas and Bray had first asked Smith to add some improvised trumpet to the song “Icarus.” They were so pleased with the results they sent him some additional songs, but Smith heard an opportunity to add something more.

“We were looking at the next set of tunes we were working on and we thought we have to get Zack back in,” said Jonas. “So we sent him ‘Butter’ and ‘Mr. Wonka,’ thinking maybe he could come back in and put some trumpet on these two. He said, ‘Yeah I could do that but I’m kind of hearing this eight-part horn section.’ We said, If that’s what you’re hearing then we should do that. So he wrote all that up and brought in those guys.”

“That’s one of my favorite memories from the recording,” said Bray. “We didn’t know what it was going to sound like. It was Zack, Dan Haverstock on trombone, and Steve Patterson on saxophones. They went in and played all the different parts written out. They did one pass and we thought that was pretty crazy hearing it for the first time. Then we rewind and they do the second layer of it and then we thought, oh, this is it.”

Part of the difference in the recording process for “Butter” was the planning that went into recording each track. Producer Jeff Covert from Wally Cleaver Studio was an important collaborator in the project.

“This one we built in more of the classic way to record something, which is to layer everything up and start at the beginning, and work everything until I felt like it was perfect,” said Jonas. “[Covert] was a great sounding board for ideas. He helped ferry us along on a direction to keep us going. I think he hears a broader picture than I do. He was really great at working with us, with what we were trying to accomplish.”


“He was also a mediator between us and the other musicians,” added Bray. “We would say, I don’t know if I like that drum part. We would tell him and he would translate for us.”

The lyrics also reflect changes in Jonas’s life since her last album. A prolific songwriter, she keeps notebooks full of songs that give her a lot of material to choose from.

“I really enjoy the idea of an album as a broader concept than just a collection of random songs,” said Jonas. “I want the album to have some kind of theme to it. To me all of these songs tell a story about my life and what I’ve been up to, even though a few of them are from further back in my catalogue. Some of them I wrote while we were recording and some in between. But they’re songs I selected in order to tell a story. I didn’t want to record another heartbreak album. I think there’s more things to talk about.”

One outstanding track on the new album is “Mama’s First Rodeo.” Definitely a song written from experience, the sound is classic country up to the refrain which includes the word “bull[expletive],” which makes it unlikely to be played on the radio.

“We tried to explain it to the radio lady and she’s like. ‘well if you just say it once it’s probably OK, but that one was too much,’” said Jonas. “It’s about big talkers who don’t have a lot to back it up. There’s some BS-ers out there for sure and we’ve run into a few of them. We’re out working hard and trying to make a living at it. These people are saying they can do all kinds of things for us then not having the means or wherewithal to back that up. We don’t have time for that.”

Pop Matters - Video Premiere

Karen Jonas Shows Great Taste, Cooks Up Delish Dish Made With Real "Butter" (premiere)


 30 May 2018

Photo: Amber Renée Photography

Music is Karen Jonas' bread and butter. Or, in this case, pure, unadulterated butter. 

That's exactly what the Fredericksburg, Virginia-based singer-songwriter dishes out as the main ingredient in the music video she premieres today (May 30) at PopMatters. There is nothing better than the real thing — the title song to her album Butter that will be released independently on Friday (June 1).

"I wanted to incorporate some different roles that I play in this video," said Jonas, who does double duty as a full-time mother of four and a busy musician who plays more than 150 shows a year and is releasing her third album, following her 2014 debut Oklahoma Lottery and 2016's Country Songs

"I am myself a mama in the kitchen and singer on stage, and then also at a retro fun cocktail party. [Director] Ryan Poe really helped to cement these concepts with the shots he chose."

Check out "Butter" now, then learn more about the music video, the jazzy, horny (as in trumpet, trombone and sax) song, the album and Jonas, whose quotes were provided by her publicist. Then, as they say in the South, bring your appetite. Here's just a taste of the lyrics that will leave you drooling for more:

  • Stop on by for dinner / try it don't you wanna
  • you're gonna love her / Mama cooks with butter

Poe, a Fredericksburg videographer, shot previous videos for Jonas songs such as "Wasting Time" and "Country Songs", which feature live performance settings. But the retro-cool aspects of "Butter" put Jonas in various locations. A kitchen scene was filmed in the home of guitarist Tim Bray (her musical partner for almost five years) because "his kitchen is more photogenic than mine," Jonas said.

Other live shots took place in "an elegant venue" called Fredericksburg Square — "They have a fantastic cabaret stage that I knew would be perfect for the vibe," Jonas said — and Smithsonian, Doug Stewart's historic downtown home that's no relation to the museums in Washington, D.C., but turned out to be the perfect place to throw a cocktail party.

Playing "Mama" meant, of course, Jonas' children were able to make cameo appearances in the kitchen scene. Who knows if they'll return for the sequel, though.

"There were a couple of minor mishaps," Jonas admitted. "There was the part where Hazel (7) got flour in June's (9) eye and almost got fired from her video role. PJ (2) took a big spill the day before the shoot and had a black eye and a bump on his forehead so enormous and unfortunate that he could only be filmed from behind."

Jonas, rooted in folk and country music, takes on plenty of genres from ragtime to blues to soul on the 10-track album, which she wrote and recorded in Fredericksburg. The sessions were held in the evening after her kids went to bed, and Jonas made the 5-minute drive to Wally Cleaver's Recording studio, where she co-produced with Bray and Jeff Covert.

Singer-songwriter Karen Jonas said, "I wanted 'Butter' to be classy and sexy." / Photo: Amber Renée Photography

The title song gave Jonas a chance to show she isn't defined by just one role — this entertainer, guitarist, singer, songwriter and mother can handle the heat — in or out of the kitchen.

"I wanted 'Butter' to be classy and sexy," Jonas said. "It's retro-domestic; it's about a mama who's not just showing up, she's owning it. I work at night playing music, so I have the chance to spend my days taking care of my four kids. I am proud of my role as a mother and a musician. I wanted that to shine through in 'Butter.' " 

While watching Jonas pour it on, Mama might even say, "Life is butter than ever."

Michael Bialas is a journalist and photographer who enjoys writing about entertainment and sports for a number of online publications, including PopMattersand No DepressionFollow him on Twitter: @mjbialas

Rob's Raw Music

Karen Jonas - Butter

Jonas's intensely personal songwriting first grabbed national attention with the release of her critically acclaimed 2014 debut album Oklahoma Lottery, followed by Country Songs in 2016. In 2017, Jonas was nominated for an Ameripolitan Award in the Honky Tonk Female Category, and won Readers' Choice Award for Best Local Band/Vocalist by the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star in 2017 and 2018. Her music has been lauded around the world.

BUTTER is a superb,diverse album full of real country songs mixed in with ragtime blues,jazz and even a little soul.

It opens with 'Yellow Brick Road' which could be straight out of a Dolly Parton back catalogue. This is a 'proper'country tune of humongous portions.

The subtle harmony with Jeff Covert is sublime,and he remains prevalent through most of the album. Jeff,along with Tim Bray,produced and engineered the album and throughout the recording process he would sing along in the studio.Karen enjoyed his singing so much she included him...lovely touch and rightly justified in my opinion.

Throughout the album we get 'true' country songs in 'Yellow Brick Road','My Sweet Arsonist','Mama's First Rodeo' 

Karen also introduces us to some sultry,jazz infused ragtime blues like 'Butter' and 'Oh Icarus'

Then we get the country ballads of 'Gospel Of The Road' 'Dance With Me' 'Kamikaze Love' giving us a superb haunting sound whilst still holding true to the country roots.

The final two tracks of 'Mr Wonka' and 'The Circus' really blend into one with a super production which gives us more of the ragtime blues mixed with jazz and bar room soul but then descends back into a stunning country number.

For Karen —a full-time musician and full-time mother —the album is a personal anthem. Butter is Karen Jonas’s finest combination of melody and message to date, stripped free of artificial ingredients and filers. This is Butter —smooth one minute, decadent the next, and fulfilling throughout.

For me,this album is a superb production and as I stated previously,it is diverse yet still holding that 'true' country sound that is quite rare these days.This young lady should be up the top with the country greats.



No Depression - Album Premiere

Butter Cuts Like a Knife and Melts Our Hearts

Karen Jonas - Butter

MAY 28, 2018

Karen Jonas is tired of the circus filled with clowns whose smiles mask their dishonest hearts, the sideshow barkers whose sleight of hand appears to be magic but whose illusions mask empty promises, and the ringmasters who orchestrate the madness. On her third album, Butter, Jonas celebrates life in her own circus — getting up early in the morning with her children, staying out late making music — even as she playfully, and defiantly, opens the tent flaps wide on that other circus and exposes its seediest characters.

Every night after she put the kids to bed, she headed over to Wally Cleaver’s Recording Studio in her hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia, to lay down tracks for this new album, which she co-produced with Jeff Covert and Tim Bray. “We went into the studio with this collection of songs I wrote over the past few years, during which I dealt with some frustrating interactions with music industry folks and also gave birth to my third and fourth babies. Both themes make regular appearances throughout the album: the retro-domestic mama in the title track, the bliss of ‘My Sweet Arsonist,’ the longing of ‘Gospel of the Road,’ and the shady business characters in ‘Mama’s First Rodeo' and 'Mr. Wonka.' We put on our producer hats and spent 15 months stopping in the studio a couple of times a week after I put my kids to bed, chipping away at this quirky collection of recordings about my own personal circus.”

The songs on Butter range over every musical style from rock and jazz to ragtime (“Oh Icarus”), gospel-inflected pop, and Western swing. “Yellow Brick Road” couches a defiant riposte to the music industry and the often-empty promise and allure of doing music a certain way. The rim shot of the snare opens into a Dustin Brandt’s soaring B3. Tim Bray’s funky guitar riff, reminiscent of the chords on “I Fought the Law (and the Law Won”) and which the song resembles musically, float under the organ and Jonas’ vocals wind around them in a song that would have made Jeannie C. Riley proud. “Butter” is a slow-burning, fiery jazz torch song, just right for smoky lounges. Jonas’ sultry vocals ignite the tongue-in-cheek vamp about a June Cleaver-type mom who can rock the kitchen as well as the stage of the local clubs. “'Butter,'” says Jonas, “is about a retro-domestic mama who’s got everything under control. That’s not always me, but every once in a while I can find the balance between taking care of my kids all day and making kickass music at night, and everything goes smooth as butter.”

The aching pedal steel that opens “My Sweet Arsonist” weaves under Jonas’ vocals and Jay Starling’s piano in a lush, yet spare, song that mimics early morning passion and the sweetness that lingers in the moments after burning down each other with love. “Sing me a love song, and hold me tight/your tongue in my mouth, your hand on my hip set me on fire/and when we’re done and tired and the passion of our bodies turns into/peacefulness/you’re still my best friend.” “The Gospel of the Road,” whose musical structure recalls the Zac Brown Band’s “Sweet Annie,” rides a soaring lead guitar riff down the ambivalence of the comforts of home and the call of the road; no matter that the singer has “a little house to call my own outside the city,” this dream of making on the music is chasing her, and “it shines like silver, it’s pure like gold/It rings like church bells for the gospel of the road/It sticks like honey, but it bites like cold/and I love you baby, but I have to go.”

The Western swing shuffle “Mama’s First Rodeo” skitters with a nod-and-a-wink that reveals the singer’s knowing I-won’t-be-fooled-again approach to the music business: “I’m gonna call your bluff…/Don’t try to bullshit me, darling/don’t pretend like I don’t know/Don’t try to bullshit me, darling/this ain’t mama’s first rodeo.” The album closes with a suite of songs — “Dance with Me,” Mr. Wonka,” “The Circus” — that focus on the shady business practices of the music industry, its carnivalesque nature, and the peace that comes with living in the midst of a circus of your own making. The slow, balletic “Dance with Me” flows into the din of “Mr. Wonka,” which flows into the spare piano and vocals of “The Circus.” Jonas says, “I wrote ‘Dance with Me’ while I was still hopeful, and I wanted the song to sound like a starry night.” Of “Mr. Wonka,” she says, “We met a man who talked a big talk, he leaned in close, he used impressive words like ‘heretofore’ and ‘gestalt.’ He said he admired my ‘artistry’ and was going to help my career. I nicknamed him Mr. Wonka. He backpedaled hard when he found out I was pregnant with my third baby, and our deal fell through. I wrote 'Mr. Wonka' in disappointment, and I wanted it to sound like a drunken circus.” “The clarity of ‘The Circus,’” she says, “follows the din of ‘Mr. Wonka.’ It’s about waking up one morning and realizing you aren’t where you belong, that you’re fighting the wrong fight, and that it’s time to go home.”

Butter cuts like a knife through the fat of the music industry and gets close to the bone with honest storytelling about ambivalent emotions, passion for music, and celebration of life and love. Jonas’ vocals fuels these songs with their bare emotion, and her range and phrasing mirror the range of musical styles on the album. Butter melts into our hearts, clarifying the beauty of the little things that make up the everyday-ness of our lives.

We have the first listen here to the full album:

Belles and Gals "Six Country Artists to Watch"


Karen Jonas first came to my attention at the back end of 2016 when she released her second album ‘Country Songs’. You know an album is good when you’re still playing it regularly almost a year and a half later, while also discovering in the meantime just how good her debut ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ album was too. For me, Karen has a raw, almost instinctive ability to write and perform unique and original songs and each album shows an artist who is certainly not afraid to mix it up. She can tick the country box, she can tick the alt-country/Americana box, while some of her compositions tick neither – but whatever she does, she does it brilliantly and in her own way.

Karen has a new album, ‘Butter’, out next weekend and having had a sneak preview, it will surely see the singer’s profile raise again. If you haven’t listened to Karen Jonas before, she’s the best artist you’ve never listened to. Check out the wonderful ‘Wasting Time’ above.

Alt Root Top Ten Songs of the Week - The Circus

Top Ten Songs - May 22 2018

Life is about options, and American Aquarium sit in the top spot this week with a way that has worked for them in “One Day at a Time” on the weekly Top Ten for Wednesday, May 22, 2018. Friends helped out in the studio on cuts this week, with a Sons of Bill featuring Molly Parden on “Easier” and John Wesley Harding backing a tune from his cover album, Greatest Other People’s Hits, with The Universal Thump on “Wah Wah”. Jeffrey Foucault has a new album (Blood Brothers) due on June 22, 2018, and he offers “War on the Radio” featuring Tift Merritt and Kenneth Pattengale, who is on this week’s chart with his band, The Milk Carton Kids, with a track from their upcoming (June 29, 2018) release with “Big Time”. The Pinkerton Raid sing of “Jefferson Davis Highway”, and Oliver the Crow scatter “Ashes for a Day Gone By” as Karen Jonas tells of “The Circus”. Jim Lauderdale will be releasing two albums on August 3, 2016, a re-issue and a new album, Time Flies, with the title track featured on the weekly Top Ten for Wednesday, May 23, 2018. 

Filling the I-wanna-go-home role for a day out, Karen Jonas lists the reasons she is done with “The Circus”. The track is from Butter, the upcoming (June 2, 2018) release from Karen Jonas.

Saving Country Music - Anticipated Albums

Most Anticipated Albums & Rumors for the 2nd Half of 2018

Trigger Reviews 

2018 has been incredibly busy with new albums in the country and roots realm, and the 2nd half of the year looks to be just as busy. So to help you keep track of it all and perhaps help separate the wheat from thew chaff, here is a handy guide to some of the top releases to anticipate, a more expansive list of confirmed releases, and a rumor mill where any potential insight into upcoming releases is included.

Karen Jonas – Butter – June 1st

A long-time favorite of Saving Country Music since the release of her debut album Oklahoma Lottery, Karen Jonas is back with her latest album called Butter, which is said to delve into the hectic life of a full-time musician having to balance a family life. Long-time guitarist Tim Bray joins Karen, as does producer Jeff Covert.

“Whether I’m finishing up a gig at midnight or getting pounced on by my kids at 6:30 a.m., I usually feel like my life is a circus. So I started writing songs about my circus,” Karen says. “My first two albums featured a lot of heartbroken songs. That didn’t feel authentic for this album. Butter is about my story now, as a working musician and mother — about the challenges of each role and, especially, the challenge of balancing the two. It’s about baking my cake and eating it, too.”

Lonesome Highway - Review

Reviews By Stephen Rapid

TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2018 AT 07:55AM. 

Karen Jonas Butter Self Release

There is a sense of maturity about this new album from Karen Jonas. She is a mother as well as a working musician and so that has to mean that she doesn’t have a great deal of time to mess around and on her latest album she looks at her life and delivers a set of songs that reflect her life and loves. This means a smooth mix of twang and torch. A subtle blend of country, folk as well as a touch of soul and jazz tinged moments. 

The title song relates to a love of baking in her kitchen and the associations that butter has with her family, her upbringing and also the family she is raising currently.It’s about being at home with family as much as being at home with her music. There are also references to the circus of life in songs like the directly titled   as well as in Mr Wonka. Elsewhere she walks, reluctantly, down Yellow Brick Road (“paved with fool’s gold”), Butter is an allegory for the good things and Jonas alludes to that with the track’s big band feel. Then thereare the tales of heartbreak and woe that often are the subject of country aligned albums.

The album was co-produced by long term associates who worked on the last two albums, guitarists Tim Bray and Jeff Covert, in a studio in hometown Fredericksburg in Virginia. It features a full, warm sound that includes pedal steel, fiddle, keyboards and brass, alongside a strong rhythm section and some versatile guitar contributions. Often, they recorded in late night sessions after the kids were tucked up which gives the album a sense of comfort and ease with unforced late night attributions. There is a timeless feel throughout that has both class and sass. All three of Jonas’ albums are worthy of attention and the combined talents of all those involved have produced a set of recordings that are as real and tasty as butter on a good bread.

Johnny's Garden - Review

Karen Jonas: Butter

The Parlor Soldiers, het duo wat ze samen vormde met Alex Culbreth, bracht in 2011 het bijzonder fraaie album When the Dust Settles uit. Helaas bleef het bij dat wapenfeit en startte de in Fredericksburg, Virginia geboren en getogen zangeres een solocarrière. Haar tweede albumCountry Songs kon twee jaar geleden op veel bijval rekenen, waaronder van mij. De titel dekte de lading, een prima countryplaat van een uitstekende zangeres en fantastisch gitaarspel van Tim Bray. Ondanks al die lovende woorden en bijval kwam Butter via crowdfunding  tot stand. Voor de derde maal op rij werd opgenomen in de plaatselijke Wally Cleaver’s Recording Studio van Jeff Covert. Ook ontbreekt opnieuw het geweldige gitaarspel van Tim Bray niet. Deze keer reikt het palet echter verder dan alleen country. Zo horen we in het titelnummer dat Karen ook uit de voeten kan in jazzmateriaal. Naast haar gebruikelijke folk- en countryinvloeden, hoor je verder sporen terug van ragtime, blues en soul. Dat levert een heerlijk gevarieerde plaat op. Tekstueel omschrijft Karen het album kernachtig als : “Butter is about my story now, as a working musician and mother - the challenges of each role and, especially, the challenge of balancing the two. It's about baking my cake and eating it, too.”. Bij beluistering moest ik trouwens af en toe, mede door de pedal steel van Jim Byram, denken aan de prachtige alt country van Grey DeLisle. Beiden weten met hun extraverte zang hun songs iets extra’s mee te geven. Karen had ook de beschikking over een uitstekende, uit zeven man bestaande  blazerssectie, waarvoor Zack Smith de arrangementen schreef. Het is een album zonder fillers geworden, maar favoriete song  is toch wel Oh Icarus. De voorgaande twee albums waren al fraai, maar Butter is voor mij haar mooiste tot nu toe.

Song Premiere - Karen Jonas "My Sweet Arsonist"

Karen Jonas talks about the new track “My Sweet Arsonist” and gives C&I readers an exclusive first listen.

With two widely acclaimed albums already to her credit, country singer Karen Jonas is on the verge of releasing a third, Butter, available on June 1.

Putting a spotlight on her personal life, Jonas has created an entertaining compilation of songs that illustrate the triumphs and obstacles of balancing home life with touring and performing. She calls that balancing act a “circus,” but her journey as a working musician and mother of four has made for rich subject matter and captivating tunes.

A year in the making, Butter was coproduced with Jeff Covert and Tim Bray and written and recorded in Jonas’ hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia. As Jonas says on a Kickstarter funding site for the record, “The result is 10 vibey songs with retro feels and enough character to sink your ship of expectations.”

C&I caught up with the busy Jonas for a quick chat about the track “My Sweet Arsonist,” one of the standouts on Butter.

Cowboys & Indians: If you had to describe your music to someone who has never heard it before ...
Karen Jonas: Alt-country/Americana, more retro than vintage, smart and honest, and sometimes a little snarky.

C&I: What’s the story behind “My Sweet Arsonist”? Did someone in particular inspire it?
Jonas: I wrote “My Sweet Arsonist” when our son was an infant. It’s a love song inspired by looking at my fiancé and our beautiful family through the lens of all of this warm maternal energy and satisfaction, and wanting to make it last forever. We’ve both been married and divorced, so I wanted to capture a passionate but wiser, realistic love. It’s about remaining optimistic about love “through the wreckage” of life.

C&I: I’m sure you had an idea of what you wanted this song to sound like before you went into the studio. Is it what you imagined?
Jonas: I wanted it to sound like a peaceful morning, with all of those layers of rich and beautiful instruments — the guitar, piano, and pedal steel. But it was a little lost and wandering until Jeff added the harmonies and drums while he was mixing. In the end, it might be my favorite recording on the album.

C&I: Have you performed it live yet?
Jonas: We have not! It’s due for a debut any day now. I don’t sing a lot of nice love songs, so I’m interested to hear how people react.

Get an exclusive first listen to “My Sweet Arsonist” below.