by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger
Album Review of Karen Shook: Moodswings Part 17
Karen Shook hails from the south side of Chicago. Raised on the music of Sarah Vaughan, Indigo Girls, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Brandi Carlile, Cyndi Lauper and the like, she has shared her gift of rock, soul, blues and country vocalizing and guitar chops with eager music students and fans throughout the Midwest. Shook was also a finalist in the Sonoma County Singer-Songwriter Competition (2018) and Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent (2019).
On Moodswings Part 17, the singer-songwriter tells you what she’s all about from the get go. In “I’m Here I’m Awkward” Shook sings, “I’m here, I’m awkward I might say something weird… I won’t disappear, I’m out now, I’m owning the truth, I’m living the best life I choose.” It’s a call to arms for anyone that’s got something valid to say. And she does it with a big booming voice amid the rumbling of Jim Seidel’s upright bass and the slam of Paul Griffin’s drums. It’s Shook’s wake up call for all you wallflowers out there.
“Mama Needs Some Strange” is bluesy and acoustic, with a strident tone and smooth harmonica backing from Phil Bava.
Shook speaks her truth on all 12 self-penned tracks. “Broke and Hungry” is one of her best, with a timeless message that states, “When you’re broke and hungry, you see the things that you didn’t need.” She kicks those big ticket items like cars, expensive clothes, etc. to the curb and seems to put it all in perspective.
“Growing Pain” veers off the blues and country path slightly for a poppy radio-ready type of track. The hook “It’s okay if it’s uncomfortable… it’s just a growing pain” is another grain of truth aimed at perseverance and staying on your path.
“Next Time” is a reflective and moody piece that has a chamber music quality to it. Bassist Siedel and guest violinist Zachary Stordahl converge with Shook’s plaintive vocals for an album highlight.
“Unstoppable” follows and is another testament to her resolve in this heartfelt ballad. A little further down list “Breathe” offers some more good advice. “I know the whole world feels crazy… all you gotta do is breathe,” sings Shook. She goes on to say, “You say you’ve got a broken heart… Be here in the moment, be the love you seek.” She seems to sing from personal experience. And that wisdom is certainly appreciated in these troubled times.
“What You Are” is a nice slice of bluesy songwriting, with rhythmic subtleties blended between Shook’s acoustic guitar, the bass and Griffin’s groovy conga work. It is kind of a jazzy piece which leads into the album’s final two songs, “You Were the One” and the title track. Both tunes spotlight Shook’s ukulele playing, with the former somewhat reminiscent of Melanie or Joni Mitchell and the latter a solitary and personally-revelatory ballad.
Karen Shook is a singer-songwriter with a perspective and personal vision that is authentic and artistically sound. She’s got a full live schedule on her website so do yourself a favor and check her out.
Per the “Shows” page of Karen’s website, you’ll find her tonight, Saturday, May 20th at 8:00 PM at Choppers in Antioch and tomorrow, Sunday, May 21st at 11:00 AM at the Black Barrell Tavern–Old Town in Chicago. It looks like she has one or two shows booked each week through late August, and then a few more scattered through the rest of the year with, I’m sure, more being added all the time. If you’re in – or visiting – Chicagoland and the surrounding areas, be sure to peruse the concert calendar.
Also check out Karen’s website for copies of Moodswings Part 17 on vinyl or compact disc.