A number of things hit you straight off with this album. First, Jonas can really sing. Second, she has written some great songs. Third, she is supported by a subtle and solidly inventive band.
Often when you listen to an album the lyrics tend to wash over you at first, but here you pay attention from track one. Suicide Sal takes on the Bonnie and Clyde saga and shows how Jonas can weave a story using elements of a true story. The song’s title comes from one of Bonnie Parker’s prison poems. The title track is another song rooted in historical fact as well as fiction. Inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, it deals with the hardship of dustbowl migration. The singer inhabits these songs as though she’s carrying the thoughts, indeed even wearing the clothes of the characters.Jonas can even kick up a couple of notches as she does with Money which is a song that muses on what money can actually provide.
The songs never tip over into anything that loses control. The tight and talented band includes Tim Bray’s evocative guitar over the sterling rhythm section of Claude Arthur and Brian Barbe. Jay Sterling added the textures of lap steel and piano, while Jonas herself plays acoustic guitar throughout. The album was recorded by Jeff Covert in Fredericksburg, Virginia and shows again that some vital music is coming from places outside those associated with this style of music.
The ten songs all bear repeated plays and reveal their many layers. Jonas’ vocal is full of personality, hints of pain and of passion that can be both sultry and spirited. But she never over-sings, as often is the case, revealing only as much as she wants to and allowing the listener to imagine the deeper crevices of the character’s motivations.
You can add Karen Jonas to such notables as Eilen Jewell and Zoe Muth. These women are all singer/songwriters who front great bands and make music that is special and definitely worthy of attention. This is music with heart and soul, music that is made because the artist needs to make it - for herself as much as anyone.
There are elements of honky-tonk, jazz in its Americana overtones. It was recorded quickly in a live setup in the studio with Jonas allowing all of the participants to have a say in the direction the music took. This explains the organic and instinctive interactive feeling that the music has and why there is an energy and rawness in the music that’s appealing on a number of levels.
The final song, White Trash Romance, is a tongue twisting tale of a relationship that has humour as well as narrative. It is just one of ten great songs on an outstanding debut release that promises much for the future for Jonas and for those who still seek the truth in music.