Thursday, July 9, 2020

Peter Karp: “Magnificent Heart” (2020) CD Review

Peter Karp is a singer, songwriter and guitarist working largely in the blues realm. His new release, Magnificent Heart, features all original material. On these tracks he plays guitar, slide guitar and piano, in addition to providing the vocals. Joining him on this album are John Ginty on organ, Paul Carbonara on guitar, Niles Terrat on bass, Michael Catapano on drums and percussion, Jacob Wynne on trumpet, David Kasper on tenor saxophone, and Eyrn O’Ree on backing vocals, as well as some special guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Sitting On The Edge Of The World,” and that’s how it often feels these days, doesn’t it? Fires and hatred and violence, and a sociopath occupying the White House who does his best to ignite more fires with his racist vitriol. It seems like we are on the edge of destruction, and could all easily topple over into oblivion. Or have we already? Kim Wilson (of The Fabulous Thunderbirds) joins Peter Karp on harmonica on this track, which is sort of a love song, taking place at the end. “Lifeless, limbless trees silhouette the horizon line/A lone bell tolls a distorted, chortled chime/A tattered flag waves limp where once unfurled/Here we are, sitting on the edge of the world.” Of course, the fact that there might be love after all the destruction is enough to give me a bit of hope. That’s followed by “The Letter,” which features some good work on guitar. Check out these lines: “Now I walk this world alone haunted from the ground/Memories taunt me as I drift from town to town/Got a crumpled up letter in my pocket/Got a crumpled up letter in my pocket/And no one to mail it to.” The line about drifting from town to town reminds me of the sad ending to each episode of The Incredible Hulk television series, though this song has a full sound. I like those backing vocals at the end.

As “She Breaks Her Own Heart” begins, it announces itself as a more playful track with that count-off, and then those horns and that good groove. Its opening lines are “I loved her to death, I couldn’t say why/Still as much as I loved her, I didn’t want to die/No matter how it was or how good it got right from the start/It was just a matter of time that girl, she’d break her own heart.” It seems like the beginning of a good short story, or perhaps voice over at the start of a film, and I’m pulled in by those lines. This song ends up being one of my favorites. “She walks away with a laugh, but if you listen close, it’s really a cry.” I like that instrumental section, especially the horns, which seem to be having a conversation, telling us more about this woman. And I love those backing vocals toward the end. Then “This World” has a bright sound, a sound that works to unite us, which makes sense, as it’s a song about life, about the world and about how “This world is hard to define,” something we are all noticing and experiencing. “We’re living in a mixed up and shook up world/Falling down, we get lost in the swirl/But it’s love and understanding and a little amen/That picks us all up to get back on our feet again.” I often wonder why there are so many problems; after all, we really are all basically in the same situation, struggling through and using what little time we’re given, and none of us knows what the hell is going on. I am digging those backing vocals echoing “This world.” This song is another highlight for me. Jim Eingher plays piano on this track.

Kim Wilson joins Peter Karp again on harmonica for “The Grave,” a song with a steady, slower, meaner blues groove. “And while talking to a preacher might get you saved/You know some things are best taken to the grave.” And in the verse where his woman wants him to open up to her, it is clear he is not the trusting sort. No, he is more guarded, and perhaps for good reason. “Well, you can’t take no money or earthly possessions/None of that stuff can help in hell or heaven.” During the instrumental section, there is some seriously cool work by Kim Wilson on harmonica. Then in the very next track, “Scared,” he does open up, singing at the beginning, “I am scared/So very scared/And for so long/Seems like forever/I’ve longed for you.” There is something beautiful and soulful about this mellow tune. It is based on a poem by Mary Lou Bonney Karp, and then re-written by Peter Karp, but keeping the female perspective. James Otis Karp plays guitar on it. That’s followed by “Chainsaw,” a playful, fun song with a loose sound. “I’m out on a limb, I’m out on a limb/I’m out on a limb, and baby’s got a chainsaw.” Jason Ricci adds some great stuff on harmonica. And then when the backing vocals come in, echoing the main lines, well, things can’t get much better. I absolutely love this song.

“Let It On Out” has a cool vibe from the moment it starts, with that delicious groove and that excellent stuff from the horn section. Peter Karp delivers a vocal performance with a wonderfully relaxed and composed style. But when he sings, “Let it on out, let it on out, let it on out,” well, you get the sense that anything could happen. And we’re eager to see just exactly what will be let out. The band keeps the cool vibes alive with a song so cool that the very word is in its title twice, “Cool Cool Thing.” This one too has a relaxed, kind of mellow vocal delivery. Hey, no need to shout, no need to brag, just deliver it straight and know you’re in control. However, the track does include an energetic keyboard part. That’s followed by “The Last Heartbeat,” a soulful number with something of a classic sound and some nice country elements. “When it’s over, it’s really done/Don’t be afraid/Taste the bittersweet/Because you’ll never hear the last heartbeat.”

“Going Home” has a great raw, back porch sound, and features some excellent work by Jason Ricci on harmonica. As I’m getting older, these lines certainly strike a chord with me: “This old body is full of rust/And my mind is all a fuss/I’ve got to go polish the chrome/I’m going home.” Then “Compassion” begins by asking several questions, such as “What helps us understand when we look back?/What makes us fight, forgive and forget?” And the answer is “Compassion,” something that is completely lacking in the scoundrels pretending to lead this country now, which is why we are in such deep trouble as a nation. This song has a certain power, and it kind of sneaks up on you. Edward Williams plays bass on this one, and Jim Eingher is on piano. The album concludes with “Face The Wind,” a track that comes as a surprise when it begins with the sound of strings. It also features some nice work on keys. “The world has gone mad outside/While all the time you and I/Stand side by side and grin.” And I love these lines: “The game we find ourselves in/Only a fool plays to win.” I think a lot of people need to hear those lines. There is an honest, rough quality to the vocal performance, his voice even breaking at one point. “But in the end we’ll know when we meet again/We were born to face the wind.”

CD Track List
  1. Sitting On The Edge Of The World
  2. The Letter
  3. She Breaks Her Own Heart
  4. This World
  5. The Grave
  6. Scared
  7. Chainsaw
  8. Let It On Out
  9. Cool Cool Thing
  10. The Last Heartbeat
  11. Going Home
  12. Compassion
  13. Face The Wind
Magnificent Heart was released on May 8, 2020.

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