Karen Lovely – Ten Miles Of Bad Road | Album Review

karenlovelycdKaren Lovely – Ten Miles Of Bad Road

Kokako Records

13 songs – 52 minutes


Powerfully sultry vocalist Karen Lovely has been making a name for herself since emerging from the music-rich scene of Portland, Ore., with a second-place finish at the International Blues Challenge six years ago. With four previous albums, she’s proven a force to be reckoned with. But Ten Miles Of Bad Road takes her to another level entirely.

A seven-time winner of the Cascade Music Association’s Muddy Awards, a two-time Blues Blast Awards nominee and a 2016 Blues Music Association finalist for contemporary female vocalist, Lovely put together a powerful collection of new tunes, seven of which she wrote herself, and gathered together some of the best musicians on the West Coast to record this one.

The disc is produced and engineered by Phantom Blues Band dynamos Tony Braunagel and Johnny Lee Schell and was recorded at Schell’s Ultratone Studio in Culver City, Calif. Two of the most in-demand sessions players in Los Angeles, they contribute percussion and guitar. Joining them in the studio are bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson of the Bonnie Raitt Band, keyboard player Jim Pugh, who works with Robert Cray, and a host of guest stars including guitarist/songwriter Alan Mirikitani, better known as B.B. Chung King of the Buddhaheads, and guitarist Vyasa Dodson of the Curtis Salgado Band, Phantom saxophonist Joe Sublett, trumpet player Les Lovitt (Glenn Frey, T-Bone Burnett and Salgado), Keb Mo’ bassist Reggie McBride and harmonica master Kim Wilson with backing vocals from Melodye Perry, Julie Delgado and Kenna Ramsey.

Two Mirikitani originals kick off the set and put his guitar skills on display. “Low Road” features Lovely delivering an emotion-packed memory of a lover leaving for good unannounced and in the middle of the night. Her lyrics come across with both pain and unspoken strength. The pace quickens steadily for “Company Graveyard,” which delivers a vow not to find another way to live instead of working to death for a corporation. A droning Hill Country single-note guitar run from Schell kicks off “A Better Place,” a haunting Lovely original that’s both a song of lost love and a yearning to relocate to a better place where she can heal and forget.

The medium-paced shuffle “Ignorance (It Ain’t Bliss)” features the rhythm section and finds Karen yearning for the former because “it’s better than this” as the theme of wanting to run away from the past continues. The love ballad “Cross The Water” finds Lovely losing the harder vocal edge in the previous material. It’s a sweet plea for faith and trust as the lovers travel forward into the future. The title tune, “Ten Miles Of Bad Road,” follows with the horn section making its debut. The road in question is a current lover. Karen admits she’s never felt more alone than since they’ve been together and that she won’t find peace until the person’s gone.

Pugh’s solitary piano introduces the first of several more relationship songs that run through the second half of the set. ”I Want To Love You,” another ballad, clearly states Lovely’s passion while admitting that, despite years of smoldering attraction, the time’s still not right the timing’s still wrong. “You Stole My Heart” comes across with somewhat of a country feel while “Always Love You” is another tender ballad filled with positive thoughts and rich imagery. “Blues Valentine” describes a friend who’s still happily married after 36 years. “Save Me” depicts someone who’s fallen on bad times and is a beggar on the street, while “I’m Over Goodbye” tenderly sings about the end of a relationship. The uptempo rocker “Frank The Spank,” about a powerful drink served up by an obliging bartender, concludes the set.

Available through most major marketers, Ten Miles Of Bad Road finds Lovely at her best. All of the material here shines with originality, and the musicianship and production are flawless. Strongly recommended.

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