Butter debuts at #23 on the June EuroAmericana Chart!
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.
It’s no secret that Karen Jonas is one of my favorite country artists; I’ve talked about how well she harnessed the alt and honky-tonk sounds in her two previous albums, peppering them with a healthy helping of strong female protagonists. With ‘Butter’ I knew the recipe would have a more personal feel, but what I was not prepared for was the genre-defying sound that would present itself throughout the album. Karen and crew took something that was working very well and bulked it up, making it even better than before, something I wasn’t sure was possible.
I pre-ordered and to say that I enjoy this album would be an understatement; so much so that I waited two weeks to write this, mostly because I wanted to really listen to it several times and be sure I wasn’t coming across as a super-fan who was going to like it regardless.
I really enjoy seeing an artist spread their wings and not feel locked into a certain style. Karen and friends took everything that worked well and added a few ingredients to create an album that straddles the lines of several genres. This hopscotch act creates something that can be appreciated by a wide audience, shows many influences, and evokes a mature sound.
One of the hallmarks of Karen’s music has been the strong leading ladies featured in the songs; on ‘Butter’ we still have edgy heroines, but they are a bit more of a personal characterization now, allowing the listener to feel closer to Karen than ever before. That personal side shows, not only in the lyrics, but in her voice as well; she has never sounded so real.
It’s kind of funny how many not-so-subtle jabs at certain snake oil salesman can be found if you listen. The quality of this album (Recorded at night, after the little ones went to bed) proves that Karen and crew don’t need anyone’s help to produce a quality product; they are certainly growing and honing their craft just fine on their own.
This album deserves a top-to-bottom listen, but my hands-down favorite has to be “Kamikaze Love” with its spooky undertones at start, its gradual build, and subsequent ease-out. My number two is going to be “Oh Icarus”, perhaps because it reminds me a bit of “Suicide Sal” with horns. “Mama’s First Rodeo” is number 3 with its unapologetic lyrics and honky tonk vibes. The rest are also top-notch and I suspect my favorites list will move around a bit the more I listen.
“Just like Abraham Lincoln said, ‘I Pity the fool’”… who doesn’t give this album a listen.
Karen and Tim are making their way up to NYC next month, which is a bit too far for me to drive, but if they ever make it to New England I’ll be in the front row throwing my Manzere (Or is it a bro?) on stage.
Innocent Words Presents IW10 with Karen Jonas
TEN: Starting in 2013, each Friday, Innocent Words started shining the spotlight directly on up and coming artists/bands with 10 questions we like to call IW10.
Members and Instruments:
Karen Jonas – vocal/guitar
Tim Bray – kickass big orange Gretsch or Tele with a seatbelt strap (safety first)
And sometimes Seth Brown on drums and Jimmy Griffith on bass.
I’m a country/Americana songwriting/mama of four in Fredericksburg, Va. Tim and I play an outrageous number of shows annually, and the rest of the time I chase my kids around and cook and do normal mom stuff. I rarely sleep, but if I get the chance, I’ll take a killer nap.
When you are on tour and you need to get away from everything and everyone what do you do?
I bring a pillow and blanket and sleep on the backseat floorboard. Not because I need to get away, just because I’m tired.
Name three people, living or dead, you’d love to have dinner with?
Can I go to dinner with Bob Dylan three times instead? I think the first dinner I’d be too nervous to talk, but by the end of the third we might be friends. If not, let’s go with Bob D, Paul McCartney, and Leonard Cohen. I’ll fall in love with all of them.
When you are out on tour where is your favorite place to eat?
When we have a little extra time I like to visit a local coffee shop.
Where would you like to play a show – city, state or specific venue – but haven’t yet?
Who was your first and who is your current celebrity crush?
Bob Dylan and Bob Dylan
What is the craziest thing one of your fans have done?
Some guy brought me a big trash bag full of stuff at Christmas time and chased me across the street with it when I didn’t want to take it. I’m still not sure what was in it, we drove off and the venue threw it away. Could have been anything, really.
What’s the most useless talent you have?
All talents are useful! I wish I could juggle or whistle or something. Tim is a really good mouth trumpeter. I saw a guy riding a unicycle down the highway main road here last week.
Very much in the easy rolling honky-tonk style for which she won an Ameripolitan Awards nomination, Yellow Brick Road, the opening track on the Virginia-born Karen Jonas’ third album ‘Butter’ is a tad misleading. While both the pedal steel laden Mama’s First Rodeoand the softer My Sweet Arsonist hark to the easy on the ear country of Dolly Parton, Gospel of the Road is organ backed barroom soul and Dance With Me is a slow waltzing old school country-soul ballad, there’s also a heady helping of jazz and blues.
The shift comes with the arrival of the title track, which opens with a blast of horns and slides into a fat, brassy groove and bluesy guitar solo, slinking its way through the tale of a whiskey drinking mama who also happens to be a hardworking mother and a dab hand in the kitchen, making cooking with butter sound incredibly sexy.
Elsewhere, capturing the same sultry mood, Kamikaze Love is bluesy slow burn, Oh Icarus again brings a jazzy snap with its muted trumpet and skittering guitar runs while the whimsical Mr Wonka heads to the carousel for a swaying retro sassy sashay that, name-dropping Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant in her put down of some preening smarmer, has an old-school show-tune style.
From the fairground it comes to a close at The Circus, echoes of early ingénue Melanie to the vocals, backed again by Dustin Brandt on organ and Jay Starling’s piano, as, underlining the idea that the Yellow Brock Road may not be paved with gold and Oz may prove a disappointment, she unfolds an I want to go home metaphor about discovering the world’s not the life on the flying trapeze she’d imagined and that “the Ringmaster’s kind of a creep” and “Everyone here has a mask on.”
It’s something of a downbeat ending, but, very much a reflection of juggling life as a mother of four as well as a professional musician trying to deal with the industry, this is an ultimately affirmative and self-affirming album. Spread the word.
Today sees the release of ‘Butter’, the third album from Karen Jonas. Previous albums ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ (2014) and ‘Country Songs’ (2016) were released to great critical acclaim – but already it seems that this is the best and boldest body of work from Karen Jonas yet
The title track ‘Butter’ sets a fantastic scene of a confident mother in the kitchen – she’s sexy, she’s a great cook and she’s sipping Whiskey at exactly 4.53pm. Here we have a character who’s not interested in messing around – the Whisky is straight and ‘Mama cooks with butter, You know the real thing‘ and the song sets the tone in some ways for the whole album.
While not a concept album, the 10 songs have recurring themes – she’s been messed around by some in the music industry and she introduces these characters in the songs, Karen a singer who is now wise to and fed up of those who make those big promises. The album also focuses on being a mother/singer and finding the right balance between the two. By the end of the album you feel you know Karen Jonas and you’ll like what you find.
As with her previous albums, the singer is not going to be pigeonholed into one genre. Yes, there is an overall country feel, but throughout the album you’ll hear blues, jazz and many other influences.
Many reviews move from track to track, but while highlights for me include’My Sweet Arsonist’ and ‘Mama’s First Rodeo’, this is an album that needs to be listened in its entirety. A first class album from an artist who is at the very top of her game.
Butter. Karen Jonas
'Yellow Brick Road', the song that opens Karen Jonas' new album Butter, may have an intro that sounds fairly familiar, as soon as Karen Jonas starts singing, my day brightens like little else. My favourite country-singer has a new album. I noticed I simply felt happy just from that thought after she announced the release on Twitter.
This blog is five years and a few months old today and Karen Jonas features for the fourth time with an album. It all started with duo The Parlor Soldiers and now her third solo album.
If anything Karen Jonas flexes her musical muscles on Butter. The material ranges from country rockers to country ballads and big band jazz banter tinged songs to a Grace Slick infused post-hippie song. It can't be long before a lot more people will become aware of her and more importantly her music.
Butter opens with 'Yellow Brick Road' and I am alright. The slightly poppy melody, the clear lead guitar sounds of Tim Bray, the warm Hammond B3 sound. On top of that all the firm, slightly rough voice of Karen Jonas creeps into my ears to settle there, tickling my musical preferences. There are days I settle for less, I can assure you. Next up is a country ballad, called 'My Sweet Arsonist', so soft and sweet. What 'Wild Horses' is to The Rolling Stones, this song can become to Karen Jonas. It has a beautiful melody, so relaxed, sung so well and a killer chorus. And, should you be wondering, this song is about sex people (and love). Yes, don't be shocked, nearly all of us have a sweet arsonist and if you have not, I surely hope you will find him/her/neutral very soon. A complement for this original textual pun is due here. Just compare Kings of Leon's biggest hit's title. Hah!
If anything this album shows how Karen Jonas balances her life between being a mother (of four!),a musician and loving, longing partner. She sings about how she takes care of her kids in 'Butter', a jazzy song reaching back to days long past musically, just listen to the raucous horns starting the song, telling about trying to be a mother of old and living fully in the now with all responsibilities that come with that. Jonas plays circa 150 shows a year with her musical partner Tim Bray. I don't know about his family circumstances, but I'm sure hardly anyone asks him how he keeps everything up and running at home. They will ask Karen Jonas regularly. Well, with 'Butter' she provides you with an answer should you be wondering. Go, Karen! Homemade cooking and straight whiskey, the two sides of here life caught in four words.
Three songs and three totally different musical starting points. Butter does not keep this level of originality. Probably luckily so, as at a certain point only opera and EDM remain as unique musical genres. Joking aside, Karen Jonas manages to keep up her level of quality. Easily it seems. With an expert band behind her, the sound of this record is full and warm. Recorded in a studio five minutes from her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Jonas, Bray and co-producer Jeff Covert have found the right sound for the songs. Yes, that can involve a strong electric guitar, rocking out loudly at the end of a ballad like 'Gospel Of The Road'. Or reaching back to the mood producer Ron Frangipane created on Grace Slick's 'Dreams'. Yes, dreamy, yet so solid you could drive a truck into the sound, wrecking the truck.
Throughout the album the mood keeps changing. With the exception of the country song 'Mamma's First Rodeo' each change is exceptional. Karen Jonas not only confirms her status as my favourite country singer, she clearly manages to set a next step in her career. She is growing and growing, becoming better by the album. Beautiful ballads like 'Dance With Me' and 'The Circus' only continue to confirm what I have written before, while 'Mr. Wonka', again provides the topsy-turvy aspect of change.
Let me end with a confession of something I am aware of for some time now: I am simply in love with Karen Jonas' singing. There you have it.
You can listen to and buy Butter here:
Here's the link to our Spotify Playlist to find out what we are writing about:
YELLOW BRICK ROAD–MY SWEET ARSONIST–BUTTER–GOSPEL OF THE ROAD–KAMIKAZE LOVE–OH ICARUS–MAMA’S FIRST RODEO–DANCE WITH ME–MR. WONKA–THE CIRCUS
As every parent can attest, being a good storyteller has its merits. Then there’s Karen Jonas. This beautifully-voiced Americana artist not only has young children at home, she has successfully juggled the insanity that comes with being a mom and an artist, and performer. While working on her latest album, “Butter,” Karen literally would put the kids to bed and go down to Wally Cleaver’s Studios in her hometown of Fredericksburg, VA, to work on the album with guitarist and musical partner Tim Bray.
A singer with a sultry, soulful delivery who describes herself in “My Sweet Arsonist” as, “I wouldn’t say I’m gettin’ old, but I wouldn’t say I’m young” wrote songs for her previous albums that concentrated on heartbreak. This time, the set is all about her and her daily challenges of motherhood and career. As she sings in the set-closer, the aptly-titled, “Circus,” she admits that her current life has a lot of three-ring atmosphere, but she doesn’t want to part of a REAL circus, where “everyone here has a mask on.”
We had three favorites, too. Trumpet and acoustic guitar embellish Karen’s look at one of our favorite fables, the tale of “poor Icarus,” done in by his own “foolish ambition,” and leads Karen to remind us that “people weren’t meant to fly.” She puts on her blues and pure country Stetson for a couple of cuts, too. The title cut simply steams and drips “Butter,” as our sultry chanteuse slyly and sexily spins a tale of good home-cookin’ from a gal who “looks like Grace Kelly and tastes like Betty Crocker,” set over a jazzy, “3 AM, last-call” groove. Classic country fueled by pedal steel and Karen’s “spit in your eye” vocals tells any potential suitor, “don’t try and BS me, darlin’–this ain’t Mama’s First Rodeo.”
The emergence of young talent such as Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Nikki Lane, and the like, has given an artist with the talents of Karen Jonas a chance to show off her considerable chops, all the while doing it and raising a family simultaneously. Spread some “Butter” on your music-lovin’ soul, and enjoy this sweet ride! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.
Don’t Miss: Karen Jonas @ Pearl Street Warehouse, 6/2/18
Local singer-songwriter Karen Jonas independently releases Butter, her third full-length album, on Friday, June 1. On the very next day, she will perform her new country/Americana tunes at Pearl Street Warehouse!
Hailing from Fredericksburg, Virginia, Karen is mom to four kids and performs roughly 150 shows a year. “Whether I’m finishing up a gig at midnight or getting pounced on by my kids at 6:30am, I usually feel like my life is a circus,” Karen says. “So I started writing songs about my circus.”
Listen to “Butter” by Karen Jonas on Soundcloud:
Karen recorded the new album at night at Wally Cleaver’s Recording Studio in Fredericksburg after putting her kids to bed. Tim Bray, her guitarist and musical partner for nearly half a decade, joined her for those nighttime recording sessions, as did a number of other musicians who laced Butter’s 10 songs with pedal steel, B3 organ, upright piano, layers of guitar, and seven-piece horn arrangements.
“My first two albums featured a lot of heartbroken songs,” Karen said. “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.”
As Karen says, there are a lot of successful mothers “making time to pursue their passions” and thereby “changing the world.” You can go along for the ride. Buy your tickets online.
By Joshua Wallace
Butter is Karen Jonas’s third album and her first since 2016’s Country Songs. If you’re familiar with Karen Jonas you know exactly what to expect from her third album. She produces great country tunes with a knack for storytelling and she has improved all around on this record. There are even moments of ragtime blues, jazz and soul to give the album an old time feel. Butter has a running theme of circuses whether it’s the circus of life or the actual circus. Let’s dig a bit deeper into some of these tracks.
The title track of the album, “Butter” sounds like it would fit in a smoky jazz lounge room in the 1920’s complete with a full horn section. It’s a sultry track that needs a music video to match the visuals the song creates. Another favorite is “Gospel Of The Road”. It’s a country ballad for all the vagabonds that is about living the normal life while the dream of the road lingers. I also really like “Mama’s First Rodeo”. This pedal steel is thick on this track and it’s a good one. We all know the phrase that inspired this track and Karen Jonas does not disappoint delivering a great song based around that.
The album closes out with a trio of tracks that blend into each other for a grand finale. “Dance With Me” is another country ballad about how rough life is and challenges the rich to “step down from your mansion and dance”. It is filled with an optimism that quickly goes out in the next tracks. “Dance With Me” flows into “Mr. Wonka” which is a much more whimsical circus inspired tune. It uses the Wonka character to describe someone who promises false riches with all the fake flair and pomp and circumstance that you can buy on a budget. It takes the character of this trilogy of songs into the new and strange world they find themselves in when “Mr. Wonka” continues into the final ballad of “The Circus”. Here, the character finds herself actually drawn in the circus but does not find it as appealing as it looks from the outside. So in this trilogy of songs that are tied together, Jonas touches on the optimism one can have early on, even while dealing with hardships, the false promises of those that would try to lure you in and finally, the overall circus and how unappealing it can be to be actually in it. It is possible these 3 tracks could be touching on her feelings of the country music industry, but it’s done so in a way that leaves them open to the interpretation of the listener, which is very clever.
Karen Jonas has delivered a great third album in Butter. Her style is becoming familiar to her fans, yet she is expanding into new territory and sounds with this record and it works. I have been a fan since Oklahoma Lottery and I look forward to every release. Butter is out everywhere digitally on June 1st and CDs can be ordered on Bandcamp.
Favorite Tracks : Butter, Gospel Of The Road, Mama’s First Rodeo, Dance With Me, Mr. Wonka, The Circus
Karen Jonas – Butter (2018)
- Yellow Brick Road
- My Sweet Arsonist
- Gospel Of The Road
- Kamikaze Love
- Oh Icarus
- Mama’s First Rodeo
- Dance With Me
- Mr. Wonka
- The Circus