Exclusive Album Stream: Karen Jonas, ‘The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams’
There's something mystical about the American Southwest: its dusty deserts and high mountain peaks; its winding rivers and gulf shores; the prevalence and influence of Native and Mexican culture. It's a unique part of the United States, and Karen Jonas share a little slice of it on her new album, The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams.
Due out on Friday (Aug. 28), Jonas' latest record is premiering in full exclusively on The Boot. Readers can listen below.
The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams is a collection of 10 stories, each of its characters vaguely connected and inspired by the artist's own travels throughout the area. The songs and the sparks of inspiration that led to their creation are very real, Jonas explains to The Boot, but the characters themselves are largely made up.
"I didn’t just make them up all of the sudden, though ... I studied them through days or weeks of contemplation and research," she shares. "I want to be able to see them and their surroundings before I start writing. So I’m not inventing things as I go, it’s more like reporting."
From the titular last cowboy at the bowling alley at the center of The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams' opening track to the trucker in "Pink Leather Boots," each character tells a bit about Jonas and her worldview. "They’re all looking for meaning in their own way. They’re all struggling to translate their ambition into action," she notes.
"This is a strange and subtle theme, but I became very attached to it," Jonas adds. "I grow weary of songs that cover only the hugest and most transformative moments of our lives. Most moments aren’t like that."
Jonas' musical pictures of the Southwest extend not just to the album's titles and its songs' lyrics, but also to the melodies themselves. She pulls together a variety of styles rooted in that area of the country, both to set what were, in her mind, incredibly vivid scenes and to clue listeners in on the characters' moods.
"What I love most about this album is that these deeper concepts don’t translate into a tired or sad-sounding record," Jonas says. "Our dream worlds are huge and important. So "The Last Cowboy ..." is proud and strutting. "Tuesday" is a rollicking party. "Pink Leather Boots" has a dusty swagger. "Maybe You’d Hear Me Then" has all the intensity of a fight."
Throughout The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams, Jonas bends and melds her vocals to meet each moment; in doing so, she'll remind listeners of a variety of fellow singer-songwriters, from Jewel to Brandi Carlile. "Farmer John," in particular, offers an Alanis Morissette-style, vaguely vaudevillian howl.
"Vaudeville Alanis is a whole new genre!" Jonas jokes, noting that the song is a dark outlier on the album because, well, the story behind it is dark: "I had just been through a divorce and was stressed to the max, so much so that I lost my voice for a few months ... When you can’t speak, you really do live in a dream world," she recalls.
"Because the lyric is so polite, we queue the drama sonically: through eerie guitar feedback, a little harmonica, some whispered vocals, Tim [Bray]’s enormous guitar solo," Jonas reflects. "By the time the tea boils, you feel a little like you’ve witnessed a murder, even though Mrs. Farmer John hardly raises her voice."
The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams follows Jonas' 2019 release, Lucky, Revisited. It's her fifth career album, a run that began with 2014's Oklahoma Lottery. Fans can learn more about the project and Jonas herself at KarenJonasMusic.com.
Listen to Karen Jonas' The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams
LOOK: 50 Country Songs Everyone Must Hear Before They Die