Album Review – Karen Jonas’ ‘Country Songs’

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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.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – Absolutely Yes!

Album Highlights: The Garden, Wasting Time, Country Songs, Wandering Heart, Why Don’t You Stay, Whiskey & Dandelions, Ophelia

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


Stream The Entire Album Below:

Watch: Karen Jonas Performs New Song “Country Songs”

Country Perspective’s 2014 (Co) Female Artist of the Year winner Karen Jonas is back with new music. Her 2014 debut album Oklahoma Lottery was one of the absolute gems of country music in 2014 and was a strong contender to win Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year award. Simply put if you haven’t heard Jonas’ music yet, you need to change this. Anyway back to the news at hand and that’s Jonas’ new song “Country Songs.” Jonas said on Twitter that this is the title track of her new upcoming record.

So what do I think of it? I think she left right off where she was with Oklahoma Lottery. Jonas sings about how she grew to love country music and cites artists such as Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam that understand how she feels better than anyone else. It’s essentially her love letter to country music. Jonas’ voice is amazing as always. What else is there to say? This is a phenomenal song. Be sure to give it a listen below and let us know what you think of it in the comments below.

Country Perspective’s 2014 Female Artist of Year Winner

This past year was another strong year for female artists. You wouldn’t know it if you turned on award shows, country radio, or looked at the charts, but female artists who made country music this year made some quality music; some of the best. There were many good selections for our nominees; many great albums and great performances that these women stood upon in 2014. Josh and I spent a good amount of time thinking and debating with ourselves over who to choose. We felt there were four or five women who could conceivably win this award with all fairness and votes from readers were across board. With all that said, your 2014 Country Perspective Female Artist of the Year is a tie! Your co-winners are Lee Ann Womack and Karen Jonas!

Now six of our seven nominees had fantastic album releases this year. All those albums were top-tier country albums that impressed both Josh and I. However, Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery is simply a damn good debut album.  As Josh said, “When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album.” The thing is, Karen accomplishes this on her own. She brought the band together and got them in the studio to record. She spearheaded the production of Oklahoma Lottery. Karen Jonas didn’t have connections like Lucette with Dave Cobb or Angaleena Presley; she wasn’t already established like Tami Neilson or Sunny Sweeney. Karen Jonas put in the blood, sweat, and tears to create an album that stands up next to the best of the mainstream and established artists. For that, Karen Jonas must be recognized for the quality outcome from her hard work.

Let’s be frank here: Karen Jonas’ dark, witty vocal delivery on the album is brilliant, and her song writing is fantastic.

 

Lee Ann Womack also had a hell of year. The Way I’m Livin’ has captured critic’s ears across the board. This album from Womack came six years after her previous release, and Womack’s first release from an independent label. Lee Ann Womack cut some great songs from Nashville songwriters and released an album from her roots and made a grand return to country music. The biggest news for Lee Ann this year, and a big reason for us awarding her alongside Karen Jonas, is that The Way I’m Livin’ received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album. Gaining a nomination for one of music’s most prestigious awards is fantastic and certainly well deserved for Lee Ann Womack.

 

However, Womack’s return to the country spotlight has brought out some great TV appearances and performances. She and Jamey Johnson sang George Strait’s “Give It Away” at the George Strait All Star Concert in honor of his retirement. And back at the CMT awards in June, Lee Ann Womack and Kacey Musgraves honored Alan Jackson by singing his hit, “Livin’ On Love,” before Jackson accepted the Impact Award. The rendition was the show’s top moment, and one of country music’s best moments this year. Jackson himself complimented the performance saying he’d never heard the song sound more beautiful.

Both Karen Jonas and Lee Ann Womack stood out the most in a year where women stood out in country music. It’s a shame that the Nashville machine and the mainstream circuit ignores these women. You could argue that these females are some of country’s most talented artists. We at Country Perspective don’t ignore these female artists, we praise them and enjoy their music. Thankfully, these women are determined to make their music in their own way, and they don’t let anything stand in the way of making it happen. Karen Jonas and Lee Ann Womack are a glimpse of what talent and drive are capable of achieving. While they certainly aren’t the only ones who do that, in 2014, these two stood out among the crowd with great albums and have both earned Country Perspective’s (co-)Female Artist of the Year award.

Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year Nominees

Over the course of 2014 we have seen all kinds of great country music. We’ve had debut albums that have surprised everyone and comeback albums that reminded everyone they still got it. This was not only the case across the entire country music world, but in Country Perspective’s nominees for 2014 Album of the Year. The amount of diversity in terms of sound, artist, nationalities, and concepts gives everyone something they can like. Some might say 2014 was a “down” year for country music compared to 2013, but I saw plenty of great music to refute this notion. And today I will highlight what we at Country Perspective to believe the best of the best.

Derek and myself will both ultimately decide which album will win Country Perspective’s top award. But we’re not the only ones deciding. We encourage feedback from you the readers! Your comments and suggestions will most certainly influence who wins not only this award, but all the year-end awards here at Country Perspective.

One more thing: In order for an album to be eligible for Album of the Year, it must have received a perfect 10/10 rating in its review. No other albums are considered. Only the best of the best get a shot. I just wanted to point this out so everyone knows why a certain album did not get nominated. So without further ado: the nominees! (listed in alphabetical order)

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Swedish sisters Johanna and Anna Söderberg delivered one of the most underrated albums of 2014. Their blending of folk, country and pop elements made for a pretty dynamic album. They not only show off their stunning harmonies, but their ability to put the right amount of emotion behind each lyric. To me Stay Gold was the coming out party for this duo and I only hope more people in America take notice of their talent.

Every once in a while when listening to music, you’ll get blindsided from something out of left field. This is music that is so good or bad that it just takes your breath away when it hits your ears. Today’s album is so damn good I couldn’t help but smile the entire time I listened to it. There is no use in beating around the bush. First Aid Kit’s new album Stay Gold is absolutely phenomenal. The Swedish sister duo of Johanna and Klara Söderberg are like a fresh breath of air when hearing them harmonize together. It’s so pure and raw. Throw in spot-on instrumentation and you got one hell of an album. Click here for the full review.

Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery

Once again in 2014 female country artists put out better music than male country artists. One of the many great female artists to emerge in 2014 is Virginia country artist Karen Jonas. Her debut album Oklahoma Lottery is one of the best debut albums I have ever heard from an artist. Her songwriting is wise beyond her years. Her raw and honest style on the album is refreshing and let’s the music do the talking.

When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album. Karen Jonas is truly breaking out with this album and I am very eager to hear her next album. You can’t do much better for a debut album. Expect to see Jonas’ name a lot in Country Perspective’s year-end awards list of nominees. Oklahoma Lottery comes with my highest recommendation. Click here for the full review.

Lucette – Black Is The Color

Everything artist Dave Cobb touches turns to gold. The young Canadian country artist tapping Cobb to be her producer on her first album was a great choice. Ditching the Nashville scene and going independent to make the music she wants to make was an even better choice. If you like dark and gothic country music, this is for you.

You don’t come across too many artists that have fantastic debut album. Many are still finding themselves and the kind of music they want to make, but Lucette seems to already know what she wants. With her talent and vision the sky is the limit in terms of the success she can have in her career. This is an artist that every true country fan needs to keep an eye on and her album Black Is The Color is something everyone should listen to. It’s right on par with Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and will definitely have an excellent chance of being Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014. Click here for the full review.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy

When Willie Watson left the group, many people said this band wasn’t the same and Remedy was one of their worst albums ever. To them I say bullshit. Even people who gave this album a good chance sort of dismissed this as a typical O.C.M.S album. You should never dismiss great music like this. While there are several songs showing off the fun side of the band, it’s their deeper and more somber songs that impress me like “The Warden” and “Dearly Departed Friend.”

Remedy has everything you want in an album. There’s a song everyone can listen to and connect with. Or just listen to and have a good time. Without a doubt, this is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s Album of the Year. Click here for the full review.

Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time

Swimmin’ Time is one of the frontrunners to win Album of the Year and for good reason. This is damn fine music. Along with Lucette’s album I mentioned above, this is the other darkest country album in 2014. Just listen to “Ohio” and “Evil.” You’ll get the point. If you’re looking for a new duo to fill the void of the Civil Wars, I can’t think of a better choice than Shovels & Rope.

My only regret with Shovels & Rope is that I didn’t listen to their music sooner. This is a pair of musicians that simply understand what country music is all about. It’s not about partying and drinking beers on a tailgates nor driving on a dirt road. It’s about telling a story that the everyday person can relate to and feel as they listen. This is a group that has so many influences from other genres that you honesty can’t even place a label on them. Click here for the full review.

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

You may have heard about this guy and his new album. He’s only been making the rounds on late night talk show circuits and touring with the Zac Brown Band. If you had to pick one artist that has been the critical darling of country music critics, you would have to pick Sturgill Simpson. His 2013 debut album High Top Mountain was great. His follow up album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is even better.

I never even heard of Sturgill Simpson at this time last year and now he’s up there on the charts with the likes of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. I guess people still love traditional country music after all. This album has set the bar for all country albums in 2014. If you love traditional country music or just great music in general, go buy this album right now. Click here for the full review.

Sunny Sweeney – Provoked

Sweeney absolutely nails it with Provoked. The songwriting is well done and the instrumentation is flawless. She went back to her Red Dirt Texas roots, but also gave it a modern flavor. It’s traditional country music for sure. Many country artists after losing major record deals or mainstream relevance try too hard to win their old appeal back from Music Row or the mainstream country audience instead of just being themselves and trying to produce the best country music possible. Whoever decided to cut Sweeney loose from her major label deal is looking like a real idiot after hearing this album from Sweeney. Women are struggling to make it onto country music radio and Sweeney is a prime candidate to fill this gaping void. Sunny Sweeney’s Provoked is one of the best country albums of 2014 and is a front-runner for Country Perspective’s Album of the Year. If you haven’t listened to this album yet and you love real country music, go check this out now. Click here for the full review.

Tami Neilson – Dynamite!

Tami Neilson Album Cover

The New Zealand country artist takes listeners on a trip back to the old days of country music. It’s certainly an older style, but Neilson makes it feel fresh and new. She may just have the best vocals among female artists in country music. You may think this is a little extreme, but think about it. Tell me I’m wrong. You can’t.

I’m glad I was able to review Tami Neilson’s Dynamite! before the posting of nominees for year-end awards here at Country Perspective because she will certainly be considered in a number of categories. It would have been criminal not to include her among the best of country music in 2014. This album is simply phenomenal and I will reiterate this again: go buy and listen to this album. Click here for the full review.

The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down

While Sweden is home to the sister duo of First Aid Kit, America boasts it’s own dynamic country sister duo in Laura and Lydia Rogers of The Secret Sisters. As Derek said in his review of the album:

Fitting The Secret Sisters into one genre of music is an impossible task. Their musical influences are vast, coming from an array of artists and decades. You may be quick to box them in as traditional country; after all, many of the songs on their debut record four years ago are covers of country greats like George Jones, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Buck Owens. However, their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, shatters that little glass box and shows the sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, playing rock music, a little blues, Motown, 1950s style ballads alongside their country roots. The sisters also focused their efforts for this album on their original material, co-writing 9 of the 12 tracks, with writers such as Dan Wilson, Gordie Sampson, Brandi Carlile and they finished an incomplete song from Bob Dylan. Under producer T Bone Burnett, The Secret Sisters deliver a brilliant album to their fans. Click here for the full review.

Be sure to sound off in the comments below! What album should win Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year?

Album Review – Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery Leaves Me Near Speechless

karenjonasmusic.com

Country Perspective didn’t come into existence until late May 2014. This means there was a lot of great country music released before then we had to catch up with, along with keeping up with all of the other country music being released at the moment. It’s impossible of course to cover everything released. So as we reach the end of another year, I went back and looked at all of the albums that were released that have not yet been covered here on Country Perspective. This is probably going to be the last review I do this year because I’ll be focusing on the year-end awards here. I went back and forth on which album I should review, but the one I kept coming back to was Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery. Several of the fellow critics I respect have given this album high praise and I was eager to give it a listen to see if it meets these high expectations. Does it meet these expectations? No. It exceeds them!

If you have not listened to this album yet, do yourself a favor. Go buy it and listen to it. This is one of the best albums in country music this year. The album starts off with “Suicide Sal,” a song about a girl named Suicide Sal who’s on the lam for committing a crime she didn’t commit. It’s a catchy song with an interesting story you need to really hear for yourself. Jonas’ vocals are great and draws the listener into the album quite easily. This is followed by “Get Out of My Head.” It’s a song about a woman trying to get her ex out of her head. She’s doing everything she can to get rid of his memory, but she can’t shake him. Jonas’ raw vocals create that conflicted emotion of a woman who can’t shake love, but yet doesn’t want to. This is true artistry.

The album’s title track is the best song on the album and one of the best country songs of 2014. I can’t do the song justice with words. It’s so damn fantastic in every single element. Just listen for yourself:

 

One of the more fast paced songs on the album, “Money” is about how money isn’t everything and that it can’t get what you really want in life. It has a similar vibe to Sturgill Simpson’s “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean.” The messages of both are the same: the world sucks and you may have to sacrifice a lot of money to be happy. “Thinkin’ of You Again” is a slow and sultry feeling love song about a woman who can’t stop thinking about a man who was in her life. She’s done a lot since moving on from him and been with a lot of other men, trying to shake her memory of him. Yet she can’t stop thinking of him. Again Jonas does a great job conveying the conflicted emotion in the song.

“I Never Learn” is about a woman who continues to be fooled by men who only use her and then leave her, but she continues to not learn from this situation that continues to happen to her over and over again. There is some damn solid instrumentation in this song. Jonas takes a more bluesy approach with “Lucky.” This is a song about luck in life. The woman in the song recounts moments through her life where she lucky and unlucky as she’s playing poker. Jonas’ vocals are perfect in this song.

As I listened to the final three songs on this album, (“Steppin’ on Your Toes,” “The River Song” and “White Trash Romance”) I became speechless. I felt it was unnecessary to continue to repeat over and over again how great the songs are. So I’ll just say this once about the final three songs: they’re great vocal wise, instrumentation wise and each bring something different to the table. And you know me. I’m rarely at a loss of words.

If there was something bad about this album or any album, I would point it out with hesitation. When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album. Karen Jonas is truly breaking out with this album and I am very eager to hear her next album. You can’t do much better for a debut album. Expect to see Jonas’ name a lot in Country Perspective’s year-end awards list of nominees. Oklahoma Lottery comes with my highest recommendation.

Grade: 10/10