Album Review of Karen Nash: Love & Justice
That timeless style of country music delivered by its powerful female stars. Maybe a little Patsy Cline. Some Loretta Lynn. Modern, sure, and until the last decade or so, from country’s female stars, there was always a harkening back to this classic sound. A sound that dominated ’70s country music through stars like Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, and Crystal Gayle. Or Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Tanya Tucker. Though mixed with a light California country airiness and energy, much like those ’70s stars and a bit like more recent country hitmakers, Karen Nash‘s music centers around that throwback twang and lilt. She’s a country music crooner, suited perfectly to those old dance halls whose huge dance floors were filled with couples in western shirts, big belt buckles, boots – and fringe, of course. Plenty of slow dances, but also a marching-forward rhythmic energy. And strength. Lyrics about adversity, but also the strength in facing it. These days, I suppose, you’d categorize Karen’s sound as soft Americana. But it’s really classic Opry music.
The album starts with “Safe,” a mid-tempo number with a subtle, jangly guitar hook whose opening lyrics set the table for Love & Justice: “Honey, you ain’t no angel, but you might just save me…” It’s also a great lead-in to one of my several favorites on the disc, “I’m the Fool,” which packs a little more energy and utilizes the whole bag of tricks to make it memorable: a catchy chorus, little guitar runs, backing harmonies, and a throwback, everpresent twangy guitar line.
Lest the energy get too high, that’s followed by a slow dance crooner, the melancholy, wistful, heart-achingly delivered “Let My Heart Break.”
Next are the two songs that seem to most often pop into my head from this album. First, “I Never Want to See You Again,” where ivory tickling, drum runs, and guitar flourishes support Karen’s powerfully assertive vocals, forming a deliberately-tempoed anthem for women trying to psych themselves up to kick their disappointing, worthless suitors to the curb. It’s followed by “Last Lost Cause,” the previous song’s smoothly swaying flip-side, utilizing the rich texture and subtle power of Karen’s voice as its emotional currency.
In addition to the vivid pictures painted lyrically by “Bright Star,” it’s notable for the a guitar line that follows the vocals through the melody. And its western flavor leads well into the next track, “Brave Eyes,” which sports a bit of a Chris Isaak-ish vibe, something you’d expect to hear in an indie film during strange goings-on in the parking lot of a rundown two-story motel on a rural southwestern desert highway somewhere.
“Circle” is a bit of a folk country song – structured like some of my favorites from songwriters like Davey O and Tom Ingersoll, but with a distinctly country twang in the soft guitar line supporting Karen’s sweetly reminiscent pleas.
“Somewhere to Be” follows, with driving guitar suitably accompanying Karen’s defiant vocals. The crunchy guitar on the following song, “Long Gone,” roars along with Karen as if it’s going 85 mph down a country highway, as is the first-person character in the song, likely, on the run. If one were to remake the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, “Long Gone” would be a perfect fit, stylistically for sure; lyrically, well, close enough.
With the final song, Karen calms things down again a bit with a very traditional-sounding crooner, “Too Close to Gone”: “Well, you’re too weak, and I’m too strong. We’re too far apart, and too close to gone.” And with that, the album itself is gone. Unless you have it playing on repeat, which you probably will.
Perhaps the only thing you could fault Karen Nash for is her timing. She would have found certain success if she had come along in the ’70s, when her style would have matched the dominant, rising female stars on country radio. Even today, though, this is timeless, classic, exceptional music. Written and performed with the utmost skill. Well-produced. Supported by an exceptional band. I first heard Karen’s music more years ago than either of us would like to admit, and this album is as good as anything she’s ever delivered. I’m so glad to have Love & Justice as part of my collection. Be sure to check it out.