Charlie Karp – Back To You
Red Parlor Records
11 songs, 44 minutes
Charlie Karp was an enduring and soulful guitarist. He was Buddy Miles’ guitarist throughout his Them Changes period opening for Hendrix on the road. Karp struck out on his own starting in the 70’s fronting bands with provocative and fun loving names like White Chocolate, Dirty Angles, the Name Droppers and Slo Leak. A go to session musician for all types of roots music and an educator, Karp paid the bills by writing and recording corporately for ESPN, CBS Sports, HBO Sports and Xerox (he even wrote “The Incredible, Edible Egg” jingle). Sadly Karp died in March 2019, two weeks after being diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and three months before the release of Back to You. Had he survived, Karp would have seen Back To You be a triumphant return to recording original material and a launch for continued performance opportunities. As a posthumous release, the album is a beautiful self-eulogy in which Karp and producer/keyboardist Vic Steffens run down many different forms of American Roots music and celebrate a venerable career.
The music on Back To You is bulletproof. Each song is as tight and well executed as the last. Sounding effortlessly loose and fluid, the music belies the depth of feel and emotive sensitivity required to perform at such an organic and professional level. The musicians are a who’s who of side men and women culled from some of the most elite bands around including Johnny Winter’s former crew and the SNL band. Supporting Karp on vocals, guitars, bass and drums and producer/recording studio owner Vic Steffens on piano and organ are:
Rafe Klein – guitar, vocals; Carole Sylvan – background vocals, lead vocals; Scott Spray – bass; Bobby Torello – drums; Ron Rifkin – piano, organ; Jay Gerbino – bass; Mike Marble – drums; Joe Meo – saxophones; Christine Ohlman – vocals; David Hull – bass; Bill Holloman – saxophones; Alice Karp – background vocals; Jimmie Smith – keyboards; William Light – slide guitar
The most effective songs on Back To You are the medium to fast tempo Soul and R&B tracks. Karp is able to show off his formidable yet tasteful guitar chops and his throaty spoken warble is used for best effect. Opener “Runnin’ Back to You” is a classic big horn burner. The whole track drips with Muscle Shoals and Memphis 60’s and 70’s cool. The Honky Tonk cool of “The Blame,” duet lead vocals with Rafe Klein, two-beats it’s way through JJ Cale territory. “Show Me The Money” is a wild Mustang Sally riffed duet with Carole Sylvan. Karp and Sylvan are having a ball on the raucous “Money.” Sylvan is extorting the dejected Karp to shower her with material wealth at times asking him to sell his blood and in a sadly ironic turn telling him to change his will. It is a delight and the music is so tough and sassy.
“Show Me The Money” would be the album winner if Karp and company hadn’t covered the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Singing with a Tom Waits howl, this performance is Karp’s most idiosyncratic, and most compelling. Karp twists and pounds this Beatles bopper into an unrecognizable Blues stomp. William Light offers a slithering slide lead. Your reviewer was duped by this transformation, shocked when the promotional material read that it was a Beatles cover. Lots of people cover the Beatles, few people transform the Beatles.
Charlie Karp was a legend and an important musical warrior. He ground out a living being true to his art and working the side hustle. It is sad to listen to the vibrancy and power of Karp’s music and know that he did not survive to see it come to full fruition. We are lucky to be honored with a final artistic statement.