Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau (2016): Review

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Produced by Tucker Martine
Label – Bella Union

There’s a kind of comic irony in the title of Karl Blau’s new collection, “Introducing Karl Blau”. The Washington state artist has been releasing music for 20 years and has a prolific and extensive back catalogue. To most, his latest release is an introduction, giving the title a genuine validity and leading one to think “Where the heck has Karl Blau been all my life?” On investigation, his artistic escapades have been made up of genre hops that even the most diverse chameleon would struggle to maintain. From lo-fi indie, to post punk, to afro beat, to soul and folk rock, his restless ardour has meant that his hardy fans have been on a permanent musical road trip. “Introducing Karl Blau” is an honest, warmly welcoming and surprisingly rewarding album of country music covers. My Morning Jacket/ Decemberists producer Tucker Martine keeps the arrangements elegant, understated, but most importantly don’t stray far from the source material. Blau’s vocal is a soothingly smooth baritone with a hint of world weary which gives the songs the “lived in” appeal that makes for a convincing collection.

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With songs that were previously made famous by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Link Wray, Tom T Hall and Tom Rush, Blau could have very easily fallen flat on his Stetson had it not been for the fact that he renders the songs with a more subdued, downtempo counterpoint to the original, relying heavily on the quality of the melodies and sentiment. There’s a gentle desperation in Link Wray’s “Fallin’ Rain”, a spiritual enlightenment in The Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”, and a quiet loneliness to “No Regrets”. The charming “That’s How I Got To Memphis” is probably the standout; an irresistible gallop in comparison to the rest, that (with the addition of breathy female backing vocals) adds a touch of earthy soul that transcends the song’s original roots.

It’s the most fluent, affectionate evocation of classic country, folk and pop one is likely to hear all year. Karl Blau may have just found his true identity, and for the listener it’s thrilling to be part of his discovery.

8/10

Track Rating
1 – That’s How I Got To Memphis (9)
2 – Six White Horses (7)
3 – Fallin’ Rain (9)
4 – Let The World Go By (8)
5 – If I Needed You (7)
6 – Woman (Sensuous Woman) (7)
7 – Dreaming My Dream (7)
8 – To Love Somebody (8)
9 – Homecoming (8)
10 – No Regrets (8)

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