In 2014 it was very clear to many what was the best country album of the year. That was until one album gave me pause and made a very serious case as to being the best country album. And it came from the most unlikely of places. She was a new artist out of Virginia named Karen Jonas and her debut album Oklahoma Lottery. It blew me away from start to finish and clearly established Jonas as one of the premiere up and coming talents in country music. If you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend you do. Her sophomore album is one I’ve been personally anticipating for a while. It’s titled Country Songs. With such a highly regarded debut, the expectation were certainly high for Country Songs. Well I can confidently say after listening to this album that the high expectations were met.
Jonas appropriate opens the album with a love letter to country music, the album’s title track. She sings of her love of Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, explaining she’ll never love someone as much as she loves country music. The steel guitar and fiddles are layered thick throughout too. It’s just an all-around great song that will make you smile. This song came out about a year or so and it’s held up 100%. The rollicking, upbeat “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” sees Jonas telling a hands-on man to back the hell off. “Ophelia” is about women not settling for guys who treat them like crap and standing up for themselves. Most importantly Jonas warns in the song, don’t let a guy make you crazy over their behavior. “The Fair Shake” is about treating others how you want to be treated and walking away from those who won’t treat you the same. It’s simple, yet on a bad day can really resonate with you.
I’m not sure though if words can properly describe the haunting beauty of “The Garden.” Let’s start with the lyrics of the song, which are poignant and mysterious. It takes multiple listens to really comprehend what the song is about. Based on what I can put together, it’s a song about forbidden love. The mother of the boy seems to disapprove of her son’s love of a girl, she 17 and him 21. The song is from the girl’s point of view, as she reflects back on these events from 20 years ago and the deep love they had at the time. She knows when they meet in again in that garden where they shared a night of passion that their “love will be whole.” The lyricism on display here is fantastic. To top it all off there’s an electrifying guitar solo in the bridge that puts an exclamation point on this phenomenal song.
We get to see a more vulnerable side to Jonas on “Wasting Time.” It’s about an exasperation of holding out for finding love, but more importantly not being able to let go of a long lost love. It haunts her and causes her to hold on to something that may not even be there, but in her heart it’s still out there waiting for her like she’s waiting for it. But as the title of the song says, it’s wasting time. The song is both uplifting (being able to care about something so much) and sad (not being able to let go when you should have done it long ago). This is probably one of the best love songs I’ve heard in country music in 2016.
Jonas nails heartbreak again on songs like “Wandering Heart” and “Why Don’t You Stay.” On the former a woman’s husband is constantly out on the road working and this causes her to have a wandering heart, contemplating cheating on him. She knows she loves him with all of her heart, but she feels her loneliness is getting the best of her. On the latter a woman watches a man who loves her choose the open road over her and walk away from what they have. Both songs fit the classic country heartbreak mold to a T. While Jonas does a great job with heartbreak, she demonstrates she’s equally good when love is going good on “Whiskey and Dandelions.” The song is about a couple who doesn’t have a lot of money, but that doesn’t matter because they have love. They wish they had the money for a little house and the finer things, but they’re happy with simpler things in life. The album concludes with an interesting one, “Yankee Doodle Went Home.” For Americans they will understand this refers to the patriotic song whose origins go back to the Revolutionary War. Jonas takes a different spin on the character, placing it in the modern era. The character struggles to find his way and finds bad luck behind every turn, eventually deciding it’s best to head back home after striking out on the road. It’s one of those tragic tales that many people everyday feel like they’re entangled in.
Country Songs is another fantastic album from Karen Jonas. She’s only two albums into her career and has already delivered better albums than many artists will release over a 20 year career. I know this is quite hight praise, but when I listen to Jonas sing I hear something special. She has the potential to go down as a great if she continues to make more albums like the two she has released. All of the praise she gets is deserved and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be mentioned amongst the very best in country music today. You’re not going to find too many albums better than Country Songs.
Recommend? – Absolutely Yes!
Album Highlights: The Garden, Wasting Time, Country Songs, Wandering Heart, Why Don’t You Stay, Whiskey & Dandelions, Ophelia
Bad Songs: None
Stream The Entire Album Below: