Some music makes you feel good. Some makes you feel bad, which in turn makes you feel good or at least provides company to your misery. It can make you feel cool, sexy, bad, or hardcore, but it seldom makes you feel smarter. Peter Karp's Shadows and Cracks is one of those rare records.
The album is rare on numerous levels. It's distributed by Blind Pig – an independent blues label – but this is no hard-boiled blues record. Karp doesn't possess incendiary guitar chops like Nick Moss or Stevie Ray Vaughan and his voice doesn't pierce skin or bone, but that doesn't mean he comes to the album unarmed. Other artists ride their virtuosity to fame and fortune. Karp is a virtuoso of a different sort, relying on a stack of songs rather than Marshall stacks.
He's created a singer/songwriter record – a rarity in the blues world — adorned with traditional elements, but these songs aren't limited to standard 12-bar blues structures or 1-4-5 chord progressions. He blends hints of folk, Americana, honky tonk, blues, and country.
Karp's voice, — at times reminiscent of Everclear's Art Alexakis — his everyman delivery, and the restraint he shows in not marrying himself to one style allows him to shift from the shuffling "Dirty Weather" to the swingin' "Rubber Bands and Wire" without losing the listener. "The Grave" borrows heavily from the Stones' cover of "Prodigal Son" from Beggars Banquet and "Air, Fuel, and Fire" blends Chuck Berry and honky tonk. That so many influences and references can exist together on one album is a testament to Karp's abilities as a writer and craftsman.
TV and film have made blue collar life a punchline and country music has turned it into a cartoon, but Karp paints a different picture of blue collar people and blue collar living. The people he sings about aren't filled with the passion for dumbness celebrated and exhibited by certain comedians. They aren't awash in sophistication but they're not bereft of it, either. They find joy in the simple things but they're not simpletons. His great strength is his ability to relate to these ordinary people and situations with wit and humor without talking down to anyone.
"An old fool once cried to me,
'You got fat in them books of facts.'
Wild-eyed he whispered to me,
'All you need to know is in between the
shadows and the cracks.'"
I don't know how you shoehorn a John Hiatt, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits, or Bob Dylan into a specific genre and neither does anyone else. The label is irrelevant because those guys sell records not because they appeal to a certain demographic or fan base but because they write great songs. Karp may not have risen to those heights – yet – but fans of those legends will recognize a kindred spirit when they hear it.