ALBUM REVIEW: Karen Jonas – ‘Lucky, Revisited’

Lucky, Revisited is the fourth studio album from Karen Jonas but it contains nothing new. It’s neither a live album nor a ‘best of’. Instead, she has re-recorded nine of her own compositions and two covers to demonstrate how her relationship with her songs has developed. Some of the new recordings sound quite different but the sparse production gives her even freer rein with her powerful voice to create an even purer country sound. More than once Jonas evokes Patsy Cline.

So why, you may ask, did Jonas not just hang on and release an album with some original material? At the merch table after a show Jonas was asked which of her albums most represented what she’d just done. Since the setlist encompassed all three of her albums Jonas didn’t have an easy answer so the question continued to nag her. Perhaps it would have been simpler to record a live album but performing these songs at least 150 times a year Jonas and long-time guitarist Tim Bray, wanted to show how they had evolved. By keeping the engineering on Lucky, Revisited to a minimum they achieved their aim of creating their stripped back live sound while maintaining the studio control.

From her debut album of the same name released four years ago ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ has a bluesy feel. On the original that is achieved more by layered instrumentation. This new version hasn’t lost the song’s depth, but alongside Bray’s more acoustic accompaniment Jonas fills the gap with her versatile vocal range. ‘Lucky’ gets the same treatment. Jonas has preserved its sultry atmosphere with vocals that venture almost into jazz. Last year’s ‘Butter’ opens with a trumpet fanfare for Jonas to slink and slide her way through another steamy number. A year later the horns are gone, a spare acoustic guitar makes the announcements and Jonas follows with a subdued but no less compelling version. It is a perfect example of what she means about a song’s evolution.

But it’s the country songs where Jonas most excels. The overlap between Shakespeare and country music isn’t obvious but ‘Ophelia’ has Jonas giving the doomed character from Hamlet some home-spun advice. Originally the pace was fast, the new version is even faster. It is a cracking start to both the album and no doubt the live show. Jonas pays homage to the Bakersfield sound in ‘Country Songs’ where to Bray’s perfect two-step she admits no-one will understand her better than Buck and Dwight.

This starker format comes across so effectively in ‘River Song’, its slightly slower pace and reduced accompaniment allows even greater emotion to flow. After a few listens they begin to sound like two different songs and I love them both. Again, without the big production Jonas gives the heart-rending choice in ’Gospel of the Road’ even greater poignancy, “And it shines like silver/ It’s pure like gold/ But it rings like church bells/ For the Gospel of the Road”.

Of the two covers ‘Lovesick Blues’ looks the more fitting for a country singer. Jonas sings Hank perfectly in a voice that could place her firmly of that era. Bob Dylan, on the other hand, might raise an eyebrow. ‘It Takes A Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry’ is an inspired choice as she recasts the song, part of Dylan’s electric set that provoked such rage among the folk acoustic purists in 1965, into a beautiful slow, well, acoustic song.

Whether recreating her own songs or those from others in Lucky, Revisited Jonas has made an album that will appeal to fans and attract new followers. After a few listens what should unite both is what next?

Lyndon Bolton