Peter Karp | Magnificent Heart | (Rose Cottage)
4 out of 5 stars
It’s tough for a straight blues player to break through to a wider audience. Even Stevie Ray Vaughan, arguably the most successful at that undertaking, included harder edged rock, soul and funk with his stinging guitar. Other blues loving artists from the Rolling Stones to Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt and many more all expanded out of their blues base to effectively cross over commercially. Most importantly they did it without sacrificing the authentic spirit of the genre, even if some of their music strayed far from its roots.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Peter Karp is another entry onto that long list.
While he hasn’t cracked the big time yet, multi-instrumentalist Karp has carved out a blues based approach since 2004’s debut. His style can be slotted into the general Americana category, but like Delbert McClinton—whose gritty, grainy, soulful voice is similar to Karp’s—there is a distinct blues thread running through virtually everything Karp records.
His new album is a continuation of sorts from 2018’s similarly styled Blue Flame. There are some straight ahead blues selections such as the acoustic, National Steel driven “Going Home,” the folksy picking and gospel harmonies of the humorous “Chainsaw” (“I’m out on a limb/and baby’s got a chainsaw”) and the opening sweet shuffle of “Sitting on the Edge of the World” with veteran blues harpist Kim Wilson’s tough blowing leading the way.
But Karp’s talents are best displayed throughout these 13 originals as he injects blues into geared up, dialed down, and even pop infused roots music. He brings a deep swamp groove to “The Grave,” a slinky New Orleans beat on the sexy “Cool Cool Thing” (name checking Tony Joe White along the way while singing “When two hearts beat as one/it could be hell, it could be fun) and digs into frisky Tex-Mex on “She Breaks Her Own Heart,” the latter adding sly Memphis inspired horns.
On “Scared” Karp rides a slow, easy vibe similar to Clapton’s “Old Love” as he laments the loss of a romance with one of this disc’s most affecting and heartfelt vocals. For the bittersweet ballad “The Last Heartbeat,” Karp instills subtle church overtones, creating a tearful ebb and flow with the essence of what makes blues so universal.
Call it Americana/roots/blues if you must pigeonhole his music. But Peter Karp’s seemingly effortless yet always bracing blend dodges easy categorization. It makes this one of the finest albums of his eclectic, yet always blues-based, career.