Peter Karp – Alabama Town
Rose Cottage Records
13 songs – 59 minutes
Despite being one of the most well-respected songwriters in America as well as a solid slide guitarist, keyboard player and vocalist, too, Peter Karp has always preferred to remain in the background during lengthy partnerships with Canadian singer/guitarist Sue Foley and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. But it’s going to be hard for him to hide in shadows in the future after release of this album, which blends blues and roots music into one sweet package.
Dedicated to his stepmother, Ruth Turner, who left us late last year, Alabama Town is a welcome follow-up to The Arson’s Match, a nominee for a 2016 Blues Blast Music Award in the best live album category. All proceeds from that release went to ovarian cancer research in honor of his late wife, and much of the material, like the title tune which dealt with losing a home to a firebug, was pretty dark in nature. This new, all-original release is much lighter as Karp sings from the heart about everyday life and the problems it presents.
Born in New Jersey across the bridge from Manhattan, Peter’s first exposure to music came at a very young age when his copywriter mother took him and his sister into New York to experience the Beatles, Stones, James Brown and others. After his parents divorced, his military pilot father resettled in South Alabama with his new bride, a woman of color, and eight-year-old Peter soon joined them. It was there that he learned about the blues, Memphis R&B, country music and more. As he grew, he became increasingly interested in African-American culture, especially that of his new stepmom who hailed from the South Carolina South Sea Islands, where many residents were children of slaves and/or raised in the Gullah tradition.
Karp began his musical career back in New York as a member of They Came From Houses, the seminal art/punk/blues group. The band received critical acclaim, but he began disillusioned with the business side of the industry and took a 10-year break for a career in film and to raise a family. He hooked up with Taylor in 2003, after a deejay sent Mick rough recordings of a few of Peter’s songs. They’ve worked frequently ever since. And his long partnership with Foley has produced several award-winning albums.
Like he did on The Arson’s Match, and Taylor helped record Alabama Town, too, joining what truly is an all-star lineup. It includes accordionist Garth Hudson of The Band, guitarists Paul Carbonara of Blondie and Todd Wolfe, the recording artist who’s a featured part of Sheryl Crowe’s band, and harmonica player Dennis Gruenling, who’s now touring with Nick Moss.
Adding to this mix are Peter’s guitarist son James, mandolin player John Zarra, keyboard players Jim Ehinger, Mike Latrell and Albert Weisman, bassists Daniel Pagdon and Niles Terrat, and percussionists Mike Catapano and Paul “Hernandez” Unsworth. Leanne Westover’s voice is featured on one duet, and Joanie Coleman, Kesha Love, Toni Summler and Elliot provide backing vocals. The album was co-directed and recorded by bassist Dae Bennett, a multi-Grammy winning producer who works with Tony Bennett.
The funky title-cut blues “Alabama Town” kicks off the album atop a sophisticated shuffle as it delivers images collected in the trailer park where Karp spent his youth. The rocker “Till You Got Home” features a flashy keyboard intro as it urges the listener to keep on pushing despite any obstacles in your path, while “That’s How I Like It” is a humerous, harmonica-driven blues that praises naked women, drinking whiskey out of A Dunkin Donuts coffee cup and other freedoms.
The bright, medium-tempo, guitar-powered “Blues In Mind” precedes a ballad “I’m Not Giving Up,” about a couple discussing relationship problems. The finger-picked, country-flavored “Her And My Blues,” an autobiographical view of a songwriter at work, follows before a true country blues, “The Prophet,” about someone who can foresee trouble. “Kiss The Bride” is up next with Westover doubling Peter’s lyrical delivery throughout.
“Nobody Really Knows” comes across with a hint of Memphis and New Orleans as it insists that even though the vocalist loves the woman he’s singing to, neither she nor anyone else truly understands what makes him tick. “Lost Highway” is a thinly veiled description of life with both positive and negative outcomes. A medium-paced rocker “Y’all Be Lookin’” — about the search for romance, “I Walk Alone” – a reflection about a solitary existence despite living a full life, and “Beautiful Girls” – a ballad of loss – bring the album to a close.
Great new tunes and great production combine to produce a CD you’ll love if your taste runs to modern blues laced with a strong dose of Americana. First-rate from beginning to end, and strongly recommended for anyone in search of songs with a familiar feel but new themes.