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The music she makes is hard to categorize, but Karen Savoca (together with partner Pete Heitzman) draws on a myriad of influences to arrive at a sound that is heady, while at the same time swimming in emotion.
The brand new release “I Shook The Tree” captures the duos ability to both make you think and to make you wiggle.
Legendary bassist Jerry Jemmott, who has played and recorded with an unbelievable list of sterling musicians, from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin, joins the principals and adds a soulful bottom end on songs that cover the gamut of human feelings.
The text of “Figure It Out” questions, admonishes and encourages; while the relaxed groove lets the vocal phrasing breathe. Always elliptical in her writing, Savoca’s intent here seems to first describe the quandary of human interaction (both positive and negative) and then to stress the importance of self-reliance. Singer Savoca’s expressive pipes have the loveliest soulful rasp, that gives her voice the edge it needs to bring these lyrics to life, and make you want to reach over and turn up the volume.
“Five Old Men” has a lock-tight vibe that features bassist Jemmott and guitarist Heitzman all over the rhythmic structure as Savoca emotes about a night in a funky tavern watching the “rockin’ and rollin,’” and sounding more like Koko Taylor than Joan Baez.
I’m not sure how these three hooked up, but the combination of Savoca’s deliciously burnished voice, Heitzman’s deft touch on anything stringed, and Jemmott’s bass (which is always so deep in the pocket he’s finding loose change)….just fly’s like a hawk caught in an updraft.
Enough can’t be said about Pete Heitzman’s elastic and evocative guitar playing. He clearly approaches the instrument as a human voice and works from the “less is more” school that subtly adds so much to the overall sound.
The duo met in Syracuse, N.Y. and today live in a converted church in rural central New York state, surrounded by woods, corn fields, dairy farms and a cemetery with tombstones that date back to the 1850’s. They have a recording studio that is home to Alcove Records where this wonderful disc was created.
There’s a dreaminess to “The Way It Was” with Karen’s acoustic piano keeping time beneath her voice. Her love of poetry comes through in her verbiage, and intersects with her writing style which always keeps things open and non-specific,
giving the listener the opportunity to arrive at his or her own interpretation.
The trio, with Jemmott added, settle into a solid feel on the title track, while “Winter Coat,” the album closer, reminds us that love usually mingles with longing and loss.
Greg Brown, friend and frequent collaborator, said of Savoca “…if she were Native American, her name would be “Sings Like Two Birds.”
Savoca herself said “I know that when it really works, music can help people. It can really heal and make us feel better.”
They should bottle “I Shook The Tree” and sell it at a health food store near you.