Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Karen Mantler, Business is Bad

Karen Mantler carries with her an originality that reminds me just a little of Bob Dorough. There is a sometimes very dark humor involved, a sensibility that is both playful and insightful, a singer-songwriter with a lyrical and melodic gift. She is the fruitful progeny of Carla Bley and Michael Mantler, and she seems to have imbibed a little of both in her music. Plus she can sing.

All this I know from listening a bunch of times to her new album, Business is Bad (ECM XtraWatt 14 B0021138-02). It's on the surface a simple affair, with Karen on lead vocals, piano, and harmonica; Doug Wieselman on guitar and bass clarinet; and Kato Hideki on bass. They romp through Karen's songs with style and grace.

The songs catch the spirit of our times. People are hungry out there, some people are going through financial nightmares (myself included), we lose loved ones and friends, we struggle through horrid winters, natural disasters and an untold number of everyday peevances, and yet here we are anyway.

Karen captures that with a superior sense both in lyrics and delivery and a strong, yet gentle vocal demeanor. These are songs that stay with you, hit home in places where you emotionally and experientially dwell. They've got melodic clout, too.

It's a zinger! Nowadays we need somebody to sing for us honestly about what it can be like to be alive right now. Karen does that admirably. Spanning a space between jazz per se and a straightforward delivery of her impactful songs, Karen Mantler delivers the goods, very much HER goods!

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