Peter Karp is certainly far from a household name, but he’s sung and written some of the most honest and compelling songs over the past two decades. And, he is still doing so as Magnificent Heart stands alongside his very best work including 2007’s Shadows and Cracks and 2010’s He Said She Said with Sue Foley. This one follows last year’s Blue Flame, also one of his better projects in his strong body of work. As per usual, Karp’s eye for detail, the range of emotions, and clever sense of humor prevail. He straddles the line between bluesman and roots singer-songwriter. His multi-instrumental skills and raw soul inform the former while his stunning wordplay informs the latter.
This one is not quite as infused with high profile guests as the previous but Kim Wilson (harmonica) and Jason Ricci (harmonica) do appear on select tracks while John Ginty (B3 organ) joins the core band consisting of Karp (slide guitar, solo and rhythm guitar, piano, vocals), Paul Carbonara (guitar and solo guitar –“The Letter, “This World’), James Otis Karp (Peter’s son) (solo guitar on “Sacred”), Niles Terrat (bass), Edward Williams (bass), Michael Catapano (drums/percussion) with the Cold City Horns (Jacob Wynne -trumpet And David Kasper -tenor sax) and Eyrn O’ree -background vocals.
Kim Wilson’s harp and a stomping beat propel Karp’s opener, the defiant “Sitting on the Edge of the World.” It’s a great way to kick off the album and like many, has an interesting backdrop for its inspiration, inspired by a book called “The Road.” Karp relates, “I read it while I lived for a few days in the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany. The rain-soaked lights in the red light district, the perfume of the street walkers, the ghosts of the young Beatles and ‘The Road” delivered me this post apocalyptic love song.”
Karp quickly shifts to piano for the ebullient “The Letter” as Ginty’s B3 and background vocals create a huge swelling sound. That one could be an autobiographical song as Karp relates, “everyone carries the letter.” “She Breaks Her Own Heart” takes an interesting angle on the blame game in a breakup. Karp says, “Not so in this case, I don’t kiss and tell. I write songs. Pure fiction. Ugh.” Some owe to more complicated back stories. The softer sentiment in “The World” was born from a friend requesting that Karp pen a song for him. He decided to keep that one for himself, featuring his own piercing guitar lead and a huge buildup to the resounding finale. “Face the Wind,” the closer, was written while living in a little village in Turkey with isolation (oh, we know it too well now), the calls to prayer and walking 2000-year-old streets forming its inspiration.
Wilson returns for the stoic “The Grave” which has some passages resembling that old blues refrain is that anyway to get along”. Karp’s son James Otis steps in with a guitar solo for the outstanding, simmering “Scared,” which originally started as a poem written by Peter’s late wife and poet Mary Lou Bonney Karp. He tried to keep the woman’s perspective on this tune which has been covered by many artists, calling this “the definitive version.” There’s some wry humor in “Chainsaw” – “out on a limb, out on a limb…baby got a chainsaw,” the chorus sung as workers in the field or (pardon the pun) a chain gang. The horns infuse the funky “Let It on Out” joined by Jason Ricci on harp. “Cool Cool Thing” brings an even filthier groove, as Karp punctuates with his slide guitar.
“The Last Heartbeat” is structured as a soulful hymn while “Going Home” is an acoustic blues with Karp of resonator and Ricci on harp, thematically perhaps also aimed toward mortality. Karp claims that the piano/organ driven “Compassion” is about narcissism, self -empowerment and egotism, and how they live in the shadows of empathy, understanding and compassion. We all know at least one example where only the first half is true, unfortunately.
More than anything this album is about strength and perseverance. Karp’s endured plenty personally but emerges steadfast and triumphant through his honest songwriting.
Photo by Andrea Behrends