Katarina Pejak – Roads That Cross | Album Review

Katarina Pejak – Roads That Cross

Ruf Records


11 songs/43 minutes

Katarina Pejak is one of those young people with an “old soul.” She has a voice, an attitude and a style that belies her age and appearance. A talented piano player and nuanced songwriter, it is Pejak’s singing that shines on her Ruf Records debut Roads That Cross. Produced by Mike Zito and featuring the guitar virtuoso Laura Chavez, this record is a showcase of Katarina’s diverse and unique range.

First the voice. Pejak has a distinctive timber to her voice and clear confident phrasing. At once apathetic and cool then urgent and fiery. Katarina is able to morph her voice through various emotions doing emotional switchbacks like Joni Mitchell. This is highlighted on the Mitchell cover “Sex Kills.” Building the bridges up emotionally and then flatly laying out the chorus, Pejak inhabits Mitchell’s groundbreaking technique. However, Katarina has grease and dirt on her voice, it would be hard to describe her as folk. The only other cover, Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues,” shows the fire, channeling Bessie Smith’s spirit and bombast.

Next the songwriting. Katarina is a mature and creative songwriter. The opening co-write with Zito (the only co-write, everything else is hers alone) “Nature of My Blues” is 50s kitsch in which Pejak lays it out for a suitor. “If you get mean you know I’ll get cruel, I know you want to win but it’s better if you lose, that is just the nature of my blues.” “Chasing Summer” is a lament to love lost. “Drinking each other down but we lost the thirst.” “…we can’t keep chasing summer, just because our hearts are cold.” Beautiful imagery and sneaky lyricism is how Pejak rolls, avoiding cliche while maintaining simplicity and clarity.

Finally, the playing. Katarina is a talented pianist playing Hammond B3 organ, electric and acoustic pianos. She studied at Berklee College of Music and is endorsed by B3 authority Dave Limina (the head of the Berklee department and long time Ronnie Earl Broadcaster). Pejak plays straight forward and within the song. This isn’t a piano record, the piano is simply one element.

Wisely, Pejak and Zito didn’t make this record a big expansive guest riddled affair. This is a clean, in the moment, band record. Laura Chavez adds real deal Blues fire and cred, she is one of the best guitarists of her generation! The rhythm section is Lonnie Trevino on bass and Damien Llanes on drums and they are versatile and connected. Save Mike Zito contributing tasty slide guitar and background vocals to the rocking “Midnight Rider,” that’s it. As a result this record snaps and the performances are intimate, immediate and enthralling.

Stand out tracks, in terms of performance and originality, include: “Cool Drifter,” an upbeat feel good stomper with a gospel funk vibe; “Chasing Summer,” a Stones jangler with soaring vocals; “Down With Me,” a Reggae-lite, by way of Clapton, dark rock song about pain and suffering; “She’s Coming After You,” all LA-noir like when Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones were all f-ed up in the 70’s.

The final cut of Roads That Cross, “The Harder You Kick,” is a solo organ and vocal meditation on love lost, depression and the importance of moving on. It is a moving ending to this excellent Blues album. Katarina Pejak lays it all on the line and delivers. Roads That Cross is a bold statement from an artist on the cusp of her prime. Watch out!

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