SONG PREMIERE: Queer Country Trailblazers Karen & the Sorrows Echo Dolly & Emmylou on “”Third Time’s the Charm”

For the last eight years, queer country trailblazers Karen & the Sorrows have also been at the heart of a growing queer country community, running the Gay Ole Opry Festival and the Queer Country Quarterly, and creating space for people who love country music even if country music doesn’t always love them back.

With the Sorrows’ third album, Guaranteed Broken Heart, singer-songwriter Karen Pittelman has struck off in new directions. While many of the songs still center around the dark, country-rock twang that Pittelman loves, she also dove more deeply into both ‘90s country and string-band inspired sounds.

After parting ways with longtime bandmates Elana Redfield and Tami Johnson, Pittelman explains, “It was scary to be on my own, but I was also excited to experiment with new arrangements. I knew I was going down a different road when I realized that about half of the songs I was writing would require a string band.” So Pittelman began reaching out to members of Brooklyn’s strong bluegrass and old-time scene to put together an all-star line-up, including Rima Fand on fiddle, Ross Martin on guitar, and Cole Quest Rotante on dobro. She also called on friends and frequent collaborators to form her core electric band, including engineer Charles Burst, who stepped into the additional role of drummer for this album, guitarist Barbara Endes from fellow country-rock band Girls on Grass, Larry Cook on bass, and Gerard Kouwenhoven on harmonies.

“My inspiration was imagining: what if Neil Young had made a ‘90s country album? So on the one hand, I was obsessing about producers like Garth Fundis and Keith Stegall, listening to the genius way they layer and build a song. Sometimes people dismiss that era of country music for being too smooth and slick, but when it’s at its best, that polish and shimmer is there for a powerful purpose—to make you feel exactly what the song feels. At the same time, I was thinking about not just Young’s Harvest, which I guess I’m always thinking about, but also On the Beach, and the way that rawness and honesty draws you in and makes you trust the music,” says Pittelman.

With a band named The Sorrows, it’s no surprise that Pittelman tends toward sad songs. For this album, she found herself writing in particular about grief and desire, and the powerful intersection of the two. “I wanted to write about the tidal pull that these feelings can have, about what it’s like to be pulled under—and what it’s like to want to be pulled under. There is a religious version of this experience and a romantic one, and most of the time we keep them separate. But I was thinking about how similarly terrifying and ecstatic both can be, whether the source is sacred or profane. And that sometimes it’s not so easy to tell which is which.”

Glide is proud to premiere “Third Time’s the Charm” from Karen & the Sorrows a twangy jewel that includes ravishing echoes of Dolly and Emmylou, with a crisp fusion of lonesome prairie pedal steel and galloping drums. With the Americana scene exploding with new bands and voices, Karen & the Sorrows’ certainly are aimed for their own Alabama Shakes breakthrough.

“The sounds I’m drawn to are usually more from the 70s through the 90s, but for this song the reference is obviously Buck Owens. I was especially thinking about one of his first big hits, “Act Naturally,” It has this amazing mix of giddy exuberance and crushing sadness that is grounded in the witty lyrics, but really comes from the perfect way Owens sings it, those harmonies, and the Buckaroos’ galloping style. I tried to bring that kind of energy to “Third Time’s the Charm.”

“I wish I could say I wrote this song based on somebody else’s life, but it all comes straight from my own experience gleefully making the same mistake three times,” says Pittelman. “I guess there are just some people you can’t help being a fool for over and over again, even if you know exactly how it will end. It’s in those moments that I’m especially grateful for country music. Sometimes you need the kind of heartbreak song that will make you laugh at yourself through your tears, and nothing does that better than country.”

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