Like the rock and roll genre, the blues label covers vast terrain—so vast that it would be almost meaningless if it weren’t for the fact that you generally know blues when you hear it. Two new releases offer a case in point: they’re both clearly blues, but the music they deliver is nevertheless quite different.
Unless you frequent blues clubs around Portland, Oregon, you’ve likely never heard of Karen Lovely. As her latest release demonstrates, however, her talent is considerably bigger than her reputation. On Ten Miles of Bad Road, she does justice to nuanced ballads and also sings rollicking barroom blues with as much passion as, say, Bonnie Raitt (an artist she occasionally recalls). She can write, too: she coauthored this album’s soulful, plaintive “I’m Over Goodbye” and she composed the disc’s best track, the touching “Always Love You.” Producer Tony Braunagel achieves a live-in-the-studio sound on the CD, which features backup by a first-rate crew of L.A. studio musicians.
Don’t look for backup of any kind on So Low, the engaging latest CD from veteran Canadian artist Tim Williams, which delivers exactly what you’d hear if you saw him in solo performance. He sings, plays masterful finger-style and slide guitar and mandolin, and taps his two-tone wingtip shoe—and that’s it: there are no backup musicians, no overdubs, no edits, and you won’t miss such embellishments and tweaks. Williams’s roots are in folk and country blues but you’ll also hear echoes of rock, R&B, and Hawaiian music in this program, which mixes originals with classics by the likes of Mose Allison, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Boy Fuller, and Johnny Cash.