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Songwriter’s Monthly Presents

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The Karen Hudson River Band (L to R): Steve Antonakos, Tom Curiano, Karen Hudson, Skip Ward. Photo: John Hudson.

Karen Hudson
Sonic Bloom
I’ve long been impressed by Karen Hudson. Whether it’s her words, her graphic design, or her music, there is always something unique and memorable about this artist’s work that etches itself into your subconscious and becomes part of your life. Her astute clarity of vision

and uncompromising honesty make a striking and lasting impression. She doesn’t scrub away the grime, bleach clear the stains, or polish the reality so it shimmers with a false allure, she leaves the grit in her music because Hudson understands its importance, it’s vital role: without the dirt, there would be no soil, and without soil, nothing could blossom. Back when I first met Karen, I remember her commenting about editors carelessly cropping the cover artwork of her CD in magazine articles. It was evident from her concern that every single aspect of her work received consideration, no detail was less important than another. There is nothing in her art which does not belong, not a word, not a hue, not even a breath. Every single facet contributes to her overall vision. Before I experienced the album for the first time, Karen had a request, she asked me to listen to the tracks in order — something that today’s music delivery service of single, single, single doesn’t readily facilitate. By obeying her wishes, I discovered that Sonic Bloom was a progression, it had an order. Told out of sequence, the songs are still valid and stand solidly on their own, but the overall message loses its drive, its impact, and most importantly, its conclusion. The 11 passion-singed, sepia-toned vignettes on Sonic Bloom explore life in all of its hardship and glory, including the growing pains in between. The tracks cut straight to the gritty heart of being, portraying the wounds created simply by living — some have fully healed, some are scarred, but a few remain open and bleeding. The first, rich, gutsy strum sets the tone. “Late Bloomer” is a defiant, metaphoric foreshadowing of the rest of the album. The lyrics declare a confident acknowledgement that no matter what it seems like at the moment, it will, indeed, all come together. And with flair! Karen’s rustic, smoke-stained vocals are a work of art. Her graveled tones are as poignant as her stories. Her voice is vulnerable, but

infused with passion and determination. Karen Hudson accomplishes with her songs what Norman Rockwell achieved via his illustrations: she vividly depicts a moment that becomes classic simply because of her skill in bringing it to life. On “Mama Was a Train Wreck,” Hudson sets up a hard-driving, stark groove that is relentless in its momentum, then she brilliantly echoes each line of the lyrics to drive home the direness of the situation. In doing so, she also manages to imply the likelihood that this was not a one-time slip-up, this was something that happened again and again. “Mama was a train wreck/Daddy was a train.” Hudson writes without judgement and without the bitterness of hindsight, she just presents the story as it happened. It is as fitting to compare her writing to John Steinbeck’s books as it is to Woody Guthrie’s or Bobbie Gentry’s lyrics because there is a depth and understanding in Karen’s words that transcend the song. In “A Woman Knows These Things,” Hudson sings about that uncanny sixth sense a woman has when it comes to knowing what her man is really up to. She holds the song to a matter-of-fact delivery and doesn’t descend into anger, lament, or ruminating on revenge. The lyrics are insightful and the tone is steady, unfaltering, and ultimately, empowering. Karen smartly focuses her attention, not on the act, but on the fact that she already knows, thus creating a remarkably fresh take on one of the most often visited topics in songwriting. Another glimpse at the artist’s inner strength comes with “Dead Letter File.” On the surface, the song appears to be a kind of tongue-incheek, dusty ditty about a former partner who has moved on. The fact that it is actually about Karen having lost her brother-in-law is both startling and heartwarming. The closing track, “The Beauty of the Now,” provides the perfect lift as it gently encourages forgetting the pain of the past to embrace the joy of the present. The track suggests that no matter what trials and

tribulations you’ve experienced, persistence and staying your course will allow you to bloom. The songs on this album were initially conceived of as part of a project that Karen received a grant for. They reveal an artist at her zenith. It is an inspiring example of how art can thrive when it is properly nurtured. Sonic Bloom is an impressively cohesive set of songs that weaves an epic tale of life, love, loss and eventual triumph. It is a masterfully conceived, deftly executed, slice of true Americana. Karen Hudson really struts her stuff on this career defining album and shows the rest of us exactly how it should be done. For more information on Karen Hudson, visit: www.karenhudson.com.