Album Review: Karen & the Sorrows – Guaranteed Broken Heart

When I first started the blog back in 2017 one of my favourite new artist discoveries was New York based Karen and the Sorrows, a band front by Karen Pittleman who were expanding the horizons of alternative country music. Finding a place in the genre has always been challenging for minority groups so it was a breath of fresh air to hear a band that were proudly queer and committed to creating safe space for LGBT fans who didn’t connect with its conservative, traditional roots.

And just to be clear, I mean those two words in terms of lifestyle and politics, not musical style. Genre purists will be pleased to know that this band are rooted in a traditional country sound. Pittleman is a fan through and through and wears her influences, and broken heart on her sleeve.

From the opening title track we have the same honey sweet voice which made her previous album The Narrow Place such a stand out for me. You just can’t help falling for the emotional quiver in her delivery. Guaranteed Broken Heart tells the story of how the narrator tries to avoid thinking about her love, since no good can ever come of it. We’ve all suffered from those crippling daydreams of things we can never have. It’s the stuff great country songs are made of and this is no exception.

There You Are is another achingly tender love song, where her voice catches and breaks with the emotional lyrics. Jonah and the Whale begins on a repeated hand clap, something a little different musically than the opening songs before it becomes a swell of beautiful longing.

Sorrow runs through these songs of course, none more so than Why Won’t You Come Back to Me with its despairing vocal and moody strings. As the song unfurls so does the sanity of the narrator, who doesn’t care if she goes to hell. There’s something menacingly brilliant about the final section of the song, where the tempo kicks up a notch. It casts a suitably witchy spell right in time for Halloween.

On Your New Life Now Pittleman’s voice becomes a character in itself, singing in a childlike way. Like the title track she’s trying to make the memories fade away. The older you get, the more you realise that’s easier said than done. Pedal steel is used perfectly on Far Away, where she accepts that sometimes we have to love from a distance. Along with the title track it’s my favourite on the album.

Those who prefer something a little more honky tonk inspired will enjoy Third Time’s a Charm, as it’s a little more upbeat in its exploration of heartbreak. On Queen of Denial she’s avoiding her pain, listening to George Jones, trying to block out the truth. We’ve all been there. Broken hearts might hurt but without them where would we be? Music would be the worse off, for sure.

So pour that whiskey and drown yourself in these sorrows. This is our country music and it sounds damn good.

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