A DC Journey
Karen Jonas with Tim Bray (Photo Credit: Jim Williams Photography)
Karen Jonas, with her guitar and winning voice, along with her 4-piece band gave the Pearl Street Warehouse crowd a fun night of ‘learning to like country music’, as she opened for Nashville singer-songwriter Lilly Hiatt. Tim Bray also joins Karen for her sets, emoting and jamming and generally appearing to have a splendid time playing the guitar.
Karen is from Fredericksburg, Virginia and as a local musician was also up for two Wammie Music Awards (Fun fact: the ceremony happened right as she performed!), where she won the 2019 Wammie for Best Country/Americana Artist. The Wammies, re-started after a few years off, is aimed at recognizing DC area artists and musicians for their artistic works. See a list of all the 2019 winners.
Karen and co. kicked off the evening with “Yellow Brick Road”, from her third album titled Butter. The song is about appreciating what you’ve earned through hard work and determination, and not simply following the shiny road that would take you away.
They played a sampling of all three of her albums, nine songs in total, including two from Butter (the album was also nominated for the Best Country/Americana Album Wammie, but lost to Eli Lev/Way Out West by Eli Lev and the Fortunes Found).
Next came “Oklahoma Lottery”, from her first album of the same name, and tells the story of ‘divorce and the dust bowl’, wrapped in a jazzy melody.
In between songs, Karen told a few stories, like when she started as a musician she was not prepared for the label of country music. She didn’t even really listen to country as an influence or for pleasure at the time, she simply wanted to release a record in order to book gigs. Once the classification stuck, however, she turned more intently to the genre and wrote songs about it, like “Country Songs”, which is a twangy ode to country themes of heartbreak and honky-tonks and Dwight Yoakam in tight jeans. The song serves as a way to give in to the desire ‘to learn to like country music’. Now that she’s embraced it, it’s especially fitting (or ironic?) that her win at the Wammies was as a country artist. Kudos for not trying to do something, and then turning around and doing it superbly.
Next came the sad yet winsome “Wasting Time”, which she assured us was her ‘one allowed heart breaker of the set’ and her favorite kind of song. I have to agree, this was my favorite song on the evening, especially the chill-inducing chorus, “I’m holding out for love.”
Near the end came the single “Butter”, about cooking for her four children that eat a lot, with love of course.
They ended with a rocking cover of Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Mornin’” before handing off the reins to Lilly Hiatt to work more magic on the good-sized Pearl Street Warehouse crowd.
Butter is ready (and Karen’s other two albums) for you to pick up and have a good listen. Find out all the superb reasons it was nominated.
Yellow Brick Road
Meet Me in the Morning (Bob Dylan cover)
Karen is selected for 2019’s Best Country/Americana Artist by the Wammie Awards - a “31 year old music award show that recognizes and celebrates D.C. are artists and musicians for their artistic works.” (www.wammiesdc.org).
SXSW 2019 - OEB Score: 7; Popularity Index: 2
Pairs Well With… Dolly Parton, Nora Jones, Iris Dement
Karen Jonas’ voice on her new album “Butter,” sounds like, well, like … . . No, no, no. I won’t go there, although to be fully honest, I had initially planned, to paraphrase Johnny Carson, to take a good metaphor and beat it to death. But it turns out that every single review of this album has already gone there, done that. So, it suffices to say that Jonas’ voice is rich, sultry, and occasionally playful, without dipping into country, saccharine sweet. “Butter” is her third album and while still rooted in country music, she liberally borrows from other genres – Americana, barroom soul, and the blues – providing much needed variety. For example, “Mama’s First Rodeo” and the softer “My Sweet Arsonist” use gentle humor and lots of pedal steel channeling Dolly Parton. “Gospel of the Road” is organ-backed barroom soul, and the title track opens with a blast of horns but lands in a jazzy torch song groove. The lyrics reflect her wit and thoughtfulness, and fully embrace her life as a full-time mother of four who strives to find a balance between her music career and her family. The title track, about a hardworking (and cooking) mother who still drinks whisky captures her music and her life well. So does the video for the song which alternatives between party glam shots and kitchen cameos with her kids, cooking with, well … flour, sugar, and some other ingredient. (DZ)
Though folk and country might be the biggest contributions to the formula Karen Jonas uses, she’s also got a penchant for blues, jazz and ragtime on this very retro and fun 10 tunes that yield a very unique brand of Americana from the Virginia songstress.
Butter lets organs set the mood on the opening “Yellow Brick Road”, where sweet and expressively vocals work well with the bright, warm instrumentation, and from there things ache with the pedal steel of “My Sweet Arsonist”, where a more introspective atmosphere arrives.
As the albums moves on, things get more exploratory with the horns and soulful “Butter”, the breezy country melody of “Gospel Of The Road”, and throwback shuffle of “Oh Icarus” that sounds like it could be playing in a speakeasy 100 years ago. All of the varied influences come together on the jazzy, big band, carnivalesque sounds of “Mr. Wonka”, which really displays what Jonas is capable of with her varied craft.
An extremely eclectic and accomplished album, Jonas is daring enough to incorporate a lot of elements often absent from Americana, and together with her flawless pipes our only real option is to be left in awe.
Karen and Tim are Austin-bound in March for 2019’s SXSW. Stay tuned for more details.
From her third album, Butter, released earlier this year, comes this deceptively simple song from Karen Jonas. As she says, it’s a song “reflecting on the absurdity of the life of a full-time touring musician and the myriad characters one meets along the way from the perspective of a mother of four.” Very much in the classic country mould with some added folk, blues and the like, it’s quietly excellent.
KJ and Tim made this live BUTTER video for The Boot’s Guest Room Sessions - enjoy!
For The Boot's September Guest Room Sessions installment, singer-songwriter Karen Jonas performs her song "Butter" alongside guitarist Tim Bray. Readers can press play above to watch.
Jonas chose an entirely fitting setting in which to film her Guest Room Sessions clip: a kitchen -- but not her own. ""Butter" has a fun, retro-domestic vibe, about a mama who’s got it all put together, so we shot the video in Tim’s kitchen (because it’s cleaner and more stylish than mine!)" Jonas explains to The Boot.
With its vintage instrumentation and Jonas' striking vocals, this performance of "Butter" is equal parts polished and intimate. In this story, mama "loves straight whiskey" and makes fine Manhattans and martinis, turning the strait-laced identity of motherhood on its head.
"Butter" is the title track of Jonas' new album, released in June. Its subject matter is deeply familiar to Jonas, who has four kids of her own at home. “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,” she admits. “So I started writing songs about my circus.” Bray, whom Jonas describes as her "guitarist, musical business partner and all-around best friend" for the past five years, joined Jonas for nighttime recording sessions at Wally Cleaver's Recording Studio in her hometown of Fredericksburg, Va., for the project.
Butter is out now on all major streaming platforms, and fans can catch Jonas out on the road this fall. Visit KarenJonasMusic.com for more details.