Video Premiere: It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry

BY KRISTIN BROWN AUGUST 30, 2019

Exclusively with C&I, up-and-coming folk artist Karen Jonas debuts the music video for her cover of a Dylan tune from his classic Highway 61 Revisited album.

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The Song: Written and originally sung by Bob Dylan, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” made its debut on Dylan’s indispensable Highway 61 Revisited. Now, exactly 54 years after the track’s release on August 30, 1965, country artist Karen Jonas is putting out a music video for her cover of the Dylan classic.

The Artist: Hailing from Fredericksburg, Virginia, Karen Jonas spent five years touring with guitarist Tim Bray and has shared stages with artists like Dale Watson, Alabama, Robert Earl Keen, and Brandy Clark. Now, with three highly acclaimed albums and a featured showcase at SXSW to her credit, Jonas is looking back on her career with Lucky, Revisited, a collection of nine songs released on her first three albums along with two new tunes.

Why She Wanted to Cover Dylan: “We set out to make Lucky, Revisited, a studio-recorded version of what we do at our live shows,” Jonas says. “We usually throw in a few of our favorite covers at shows, so we included this gorgeous tune by Bob Dylan. “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” comes from the album Highway 61 Revisited, which hit my radar somewhere toward the end of high school and changed how I thought about songwriting, especially lyrically.”

About the Video: “We were lucky enough to film at a local farm, Silver Ridge Farm (guitarist Tim Bray actually went to preschool with the owner — how’s that for old friends?!), and also a historic building in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia, called the Pump House, which overlooks our beautiful Rappahannock River. Our longtime friend and videographer Ryan Poe directed the video.

“Ryan and I decided on the plan, but he’s the one who was able to pull it off. I was a little worried about making a scenic, mellow video, but Ryan’s got a seriously amazing eye for picking just the right moments and scenes to include.

“The filming was pretty simple. The farm is beautiful all the time, so it wasn’t too hard to find a nice evening to stop by. For the river shot, we wanted to have a couple of shots with the train going by. At first we thought that was going to be difficult to accomplish, so I was trying not to laugh when a train would come. But it turns out the train goes by a lot around sunset, so we ended up having to find moments when the train wasn’t passing by instead. We also had to dodge some stand-up paddleboarders.”

Why the Song Still Resonates: “Dylan is timeless. It’s a sort of mysterious, sort of sexy song about a traveler on a train. What’s not to love?”

Get an exclusive first look at the music video for “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” below.

Review: Pennyblack Music, UK

For her fourth studio album Fredericksburg, Virginia-based country artist Karen Jonas, as the title would suggest, revisits a handful of songs from her first three albums and adds a couple of covers as well. Having caught Jonas live at a small venue around the release of her 2018 third album ‘Butter’, I can confirm that she gives a cracking performance on stage, something that was suggested from her studio albums. It’s not always the case but Jonas captures the excitement and atmosphere of her live shows pretty well on her albums.

So, lacking a live album, which might well have limited appeal, re-recording select songs from her three albums to display how they’ve grown is not such a bad idea. These songs have been road-tested for some time now and going into a studio with what are, essentially, old friends now could be interesting. And it’s a successful project.

Maybe the most well known song from ‘Butter’, the title track, is shorn here of the dirty brass that graced the original version but Karen’s vocals are even more sultry if that were possible. With guitarist Tim Bray playing a more prominent part on this track and throughout the album. the result is certainly a different take on the version we’ve come to know and love. After a couple of plays it transpires that no one version registers as the favourite. While familiarity might initially favour the better known version, the fact that Jonas has added more than a little twist to these new versions makes the listening experience completely different. Having lived and played with these songs for a while now out on the road, Jonas and Bray have developed a kind of hybrid that will keep old fans happy while trying some thing new with the songs.

Even when the change is more drastic as on selections such as ‘Gospel of the Road’, which one thought couldn’t be improved on, given this stripped-back setting actually adds to the soulfulness of not only Karen’s vocals but the new arrangement of the song takes her heartfelt performance to another place entirely.

The opening cut ‘Ophelia’ shows that, even though for the most part these interpretations are more stripped-down than the original studio versions, it doesn’t mean that they have also been slowed down to a snail’s pace. To these ears it seems that the pace has been picked up. Karen’s opening advice to “hang onto your hats boys” no doubt confirms this. And although this version is closer to what you’d hear if you went to a gig, give the track a listen on headphones and appreciate just how intricate Bray’s guitar playing is. The cover of ‘Lovesick Blues’ indicates that Hank Williams isn’t the only one that owns this song now. If Karen’s vision for recording this country classic was to bring it bang up to date for today’s market, then it’s been successful. The other cover is a gorgeous version of Bob Dylan’s ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’. Karen turns in one of her most soulful vocal performances and the arrangement is simply beautiful. Again Bray’s playing almost, but not quite, steals the show from Karen. It’s a remarkable reading from all concerned and for once saying that a cover version owns the song is true in this case.

‘Oklahoma Lottery, the title track from Karen’s debut album, displays the singer’s blues tendencies, that sultriness evident in her vocals indicating that this is another song that has benefitted from years of being sung on the road.

It was an inspired move to re-record these songs that have been part of her live repertoire, not only to introduce her to a new audience but also to remind her loyal following of how Karen and her band have developed over the years. It’s far from a ‘best of’ but surprisingly, as it features nine songs, all her fans will be familiar with it serves as a new album, fresh and not just a rehash of former glories. As an introduction to a singer-songwriter who takes in jazz, blues, honky-tonk and the obvious country influences, it couldn’t be bettered.

Review: Americana-UK

Karen Jonas “Lucky, Revisited” (Independent, 2019)

“Hang on to your hats boys”… and so begins the first bit of advice from Karen Jonas at the start of ‘Ophelia’the first song on ‘Lucky, Revisited’. It would be well to take heed because what follows is a rip-roaring hoe down played with the sort of gusto any thrash-metal band would be proud of. But instead of de-tuned distortion imagine Albert Lee circa ‘Country Boy’ backing the hollering lungs of Maria Mckee. The song offers guidance (Jonas’ second piece of advice on the album) to one of Shakespeare’s ‘you fell for a wrong’ un girl’ characters: Ophelia + Hamlet with enough fervour to make the bard’s quill quiver. The question to Ophelia “But honey, didn’t you read Romeo and Juliet?” is smart, funny and indicative of Jonas’ writing quality.

It is a breathless start, and I guess it was intended to be. The story is that Jonas was working the post gig merch table, chatting with fans and so on, and concluded that her recorded albums just did not represent her live sound. As a result ‘Lucky, Revisited’ is her fourth album, but is actually a re-working of nine songs that appear across her first three records, plus two cover versions. What we get are songs that have grown; the children are honed, fit and at the top of their game, they turn heads and invite ‘goodness haven’t they got big’ comments. The sharpness springs from intense repetitions at gig after gig over half a decade. Compare Ophelia here to the version on 2016’s ‘Country Songs’ and you can calibrate the change in intensity. The original is good, but the ‘Lucky, Revisited’ album version lifts it to a new level. Credit must go to Jonas for having the courage to re-present her work. Credit too to Tim Bray for his blistering guitar work. But praise must also go to E.P Jackson bassist and engineer for this record. It is his approach to the recording that must have had Jonas chirruping that this was exactly the sound in her mind’s eye. This is engineer as doctor – ‘do no harm’ – laissez-faire in the sense that the sound needs little interference. It speaks for itself, loudly and energetically.

Jonas herself has said that she isn’t over enamoured with the country label. Is calling one of your albums ‘Country Songs’ then an error? Gathering a range of songs from previous albums displays Jonas’ breadth of writing and why country is a good home. Without doubt there is a heavy vein of country in the music and lyrical content. ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ is a Grapes of Wrath style chronicle of having to “Pack up your old jalopy because ‘You got some friends who say they’re workin’ out in California”. It is a fine song with another outstanding vocal performance. ‘Butter’ is the tale of (near) domestic heaven: “Mama cooks with butter/Course she does, sugar/ Soft and warm right on the counter/She looks like Grace Kelly/She tastes like Betty Crocker/Mama cooks with butter”. Ah yes, but she drinks straight whiskey.
So here we find the divining rod that leads to the heart of country, to the immutable music and message. On ‘Country Songs’ Jonas maps her journey “So thank you for teachin’ me to love country songs/ For makin’ me so sad I wanna sing along/When I hear that fiddle start, I can dance all over my broken heart/And I hardly care that you don’t love me like you used to do/No, I hardly care that you don’t love me like you used to do”.

In that context, the two covers Hank’s “Lovesick Blues” and Dylan’s “It Take A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” make perfect sense. And, the re-recording of these songs makes perfect sense too. This is an excellent introduction to Jonas work. Hang on to your hats? For sure, but it is also hats off to a job very well done.