Karen Lovely is a great country blues singer. Actually, she’s a great singer, period, it’s just that she really mines the country blues vein. Sometimes she seems more of one than the other, but the reality is she blends them so seamlessly, you find yourself not really worrying about it. It’s easy just to kick back and enjoy the music.
Back in 2010, it seemed like she came out of nowhere to take Second Place at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Since then, she’s done nothing but solidify her already stellar reputation within the genre. Her current album, Fish Outta Water is Lovely’s fifth studio album following Lucky Girl (2008), Still The Rain (2010), Prohibition Blues (2014), and Ten Miles Of Bad Road (2015).
For this album, she has assembled a great band and a top-notch producer as well. Lovely’s bandmates include Rick Holmstrom on guitar for five songs; Doug Pettibone on electric and acoustic guitar for five songs; Taras Prodaniuk on acoustic and electric bass; and Matt Tecu on drums and percussion.
Special guests include Ben Rice on guitar and drums; Eamon Ryland on slide guitar; Al Bonhomme on guitar and mandolin; Sasha Smith on piano and Wurlitzer; Skip Edwards on B3 and Farfisa; Phil Parlapiano on piano and Hammond organ; David Rahlicke on baritone sax and cornet; DJ Bonebrake on marimba; Alan Mark Lightner on steel drums, timbale, congas, and guiro; Eric Gorfain on violin; and Richard Dodd on cello.
Producer Eric Corne also provided background vocals, harmonica, and acoustic guitar while writing or co-writing nine of the twelve songs on the album. Lovely also wrote or co-wrote five songs.
Lovely starts off the album with the title track, Fish Outta Water. It’s a nice quiet song with some mysterious keys in the background. I think it’s the Farfisa that Skip Edwards is playing. Holstrom has a good controlled guitar break. It’s a solid opening to the album.
There’s a little Boz Scaggs shuffle that kicks off Under The Midnight Sun. Lovely has a distinctive low voice and she delivers the vocals with a great deal of sweetness as well as just a touch of attitude. She follows up with Twist My Fate, a more bluesy number that she delivers with a more staccato style. This one could easily have come from the big band era and would have been at home performed by one of the great belters. Eric Corne wrote the song (as he has for the two previous numbers) and adds harmonica to the mix. I’ll be playing this one on Time For The Blues.
Next up is the swampy Waking Up The Dead, with its shuffle rhythm and brushes on the drums. This is one that will appeal to both country and blues fans. It’s a great song and Pettibone does a great job on the guitar. Put this one on your playlist!
Corne and Lovely team up on the writing of Big Black Cadillac. The lyrics are dark and poetic and it gives you a real sense of place. In this case, West Texas, a sun baked land with wind that seems to come out of nowhere and doesn’t want to leave. It’s a beautiful song.
Everything Means Nothing also contains some interesting lyrics. Ryland plays some sweet slide guitar on the song. It’s an different philosophy than you run in to on a roots music album, but one that needs to be explored.
Without question, my favorite song on the album is Hades’ Bride (There Was A Time). Coincidentally, it’s the first song written entirely by Lovely. The lyrics contain a mix of historical references (“There was a time your love hit me like Frazier hit Ali”) and mythological ones (“There was a time I was Achilles and you dropped me to my knees”). Gorfain’s violin adds another dimension to the song. Love this one.
There’s a touch of funk in Molotov Cocktails, but with a title like that, you can’t expect something from deep in the Delta. It’s handled through Lovely’s vocals and Pettibone’s guitar than anything else. It’s a decent song, but not one of my favorites, especially coming after the last song.
My second favorite song on the album is Next Time. It’s got a nice swing to it and Tecu uses brushes on the drums and it’s a good honkytonk feel to it. Parlapiano does a great job on the keys, adding to the overall fun of the song. It’s another one for your playlist.
Lovely uses her most seductive voice on Nice And Easy, and with Pettibone’s guitar turns the song into a smoldering number that can leave a man weak. I would love to see her perform the song live, just to see how the audience responds.
She follows with a very cool story song, Punk Rock Johnny Cash, that was nothing like I imagined it would be. No, it was much better. One similar characteristic between country and blues are the stories that some songs tell. This is one of them that paints a vivid picture and has a couple of major twists in its four-minute run. She uses some of Cash’s best-known riffs (the train shuffle) and even some lyrics. I really like this one as well.
Lovely concludes the album with one more of Corne’s compositions, The River’s Wide. It’s got the lushest sound on the album, the organ giving it a gospel touch and lifting the song. It’s a fitting way to take the album out.
There is a consistency in Karen Lovely’s approach. She doesn’t feel the need to shriek, or even put a sharper edge to her vocals. Her seductive siren’s voice is quite enough, thank you, and she manages to use the quiet approach to draw us into the world of each song with ease.
For those blues fans who like the pyrotechnics of a flashy guitarist taking the lead on a six-minute solo, you won’t find any of that on this particular album. However, Fish Outta Water is a wholly satisfying journey that brings some of the best writing, the tightest music, and an amazing voice together to create a wonderful album.
If Lovely has somehow escaped your radar, make sure to change that by going to http://www.karenlovely.com/, and check out her music and especially her tours. If she brings that voice anywhere near you, you owe it to yourself to experience it first hand!