I first learned of Karen Lovely after she placed second at the International Blues Challenge last year. I first heard her sing in an impromptu jam at Rum Boogie Café in Memphis and I took notice when I saw she had a new record coming out this year, wondering if she, like so many before her, would use the IBC as a springboard forward.
Some artists defy easy categorization or definition. Karen Lovely isn't one of them and in this instance it's a good thing. After several listens to Still The Rain, one word kept coming to mind: natural. She has a powerhouse, passionate voice and complete control of it.
When we think of musical excess in rock or the blues, we usually think of guitar players who play too damn many notes and think any space in any song must be filled with more testaments to their brilliance. We rarely think of music at all when we think of singers falling in love with themselves, but it has been known to happen, especially in pop and R&B. I bring this up because if I had a voice like Karen Lovely, I'd probably oversing every note and fill every space of every song with something. It might be an extraneous "ooh" or "baby." She doesn't because she understands her job is to interpret a song and she knows how to do it, delivering only what's needed.
The first song I heard from Still The Rain is "Never Felt No Blues" and those five minutes completely won me over. You may not believe in Satan but when you listen to Robert Johnson sing about hellhounds on his trail, you know he believes it. I'm not suggesting Lovely has become the equivalent of Johnson but she is powerfully persuasive on this spellbinding track. Alan Mirkitani's guitar lead heighten the drama, echoing the piercing pain expressed in the vocal.