Karen Nunis Blackstone

Give Me Sanity

by Chuck Hicks


Karen Nunis Blackstone is a Malaysian-born singer-songwriter and visual artist of Portuguese, Ceylonese, and Chinese descent. In addition to recording, she paints, draws, and makes paper art. She refers to her husband as “Daddy Peet”. Interested?

Her press release states that since Blackstone is “...neither Malay or Chinese, her vocal talent could not find industry acceptance in Malaysia until she relocated to Japan; this, fulfilling a prophecy given by her Ceylonese granddaddy (a renowned soothsayer) that Karen ‘would be known wherever she was heard.’” Okay.

cover art

Karen Nunis Blackstone

Give Me Sanity

(Songbird LLC)

The release continues: “After honing her vocal chops singing jazz and blues on the Nihon circuit, Karen’s original songs found a welcome audience at a Buddhist temple run by a former Los Angeles punk vocalist and expanded to concert halls, smoky clubs, and festivals all over Japan.”

Is this some kind of a joke, or a proposed script for a wanna-be Gran Prix winner at Cannes? These are just a few hints that Blackstone and company are trying to pull the wool over American ears…

Remember that brainy teenage girl who set her brooding poetry and creepy diary extracts to a few guitar chords, then had the audacity to perform them at the local high school talent show? Remember how her classmates squirmed in their seats, feeling embarrassed on her behalf? That analogy approximates Blackstone’s music. Give Me Sanity could have been retitled “A Day in the Life of a Clinical Counselor”. After listening to this case load, I had a new appreciation for what therapists go through. Blackstone’s lyrics are insufferable. On the thoughtfully titled “Frickin’ Truths” she writes:

“like sad truths, aching tooths, songs,
poems, cosmic pre-occupations
we believe we need the f-word…check it out,
to get a rise or a blink
from the cream of the crop,
the wanna-be-different,
so cool-you-got-what-it-takes, baby?”

On “Angel of Darkness” Blackstone tries to get an assist from from William Blake, using his Woe Cried the Muse as a template. Long ago, as a college sophomore, this reviewer thought Blake was the greatest thing since sliced bread. After years of reflection I have concluded that he was a raving nut case, that his obscure, self-absorbed vagaries cannot pass for mystical insight, and that “Jerusalem” is a national embarrassment for Great Britain (fittingly covered by Emerson, Lake & Palmer). Blake’s inspiration opens the lid into the abyss of Blackstone’s next track, “She’s For Sale”:

“price check on Givenchy
Christian Lacroix
Nina Ricci
jewels baby

Regarding her music, Blackstone says, “I concentrate on the strum, and like to keep things simple. Less is more.” No argument there. But after awhile her incessant minor-chord drone becomes less interesting than a monotonous Buddhist chant.

However, Give Me Sanity is not a total loss. The opening title track actually has a trace of promise, reminiscent of the old-world acoustic pieces Page & Plant composed “among those dark, satanic hills”. Blackstone does have a latently powerful voice, similar in tone to that of Gigi Dover of The Rank Outsiders. Guitarist Julian Mokhtar lays down some convincing slide licks here and there, and Muhar Diman adds the primitive sounds of the Indonesian seruling flute and Chinese bamboo flute to a couple of tracks. Unfortunately, these sporadic flourishes aren’t enough to make this album what I expected: exotic and mysterious.

Instead, Give Me Sanity exposes Blackstone as an oh-not-another female singer-songwriter with a boulder on her shoulder. This Far East crack at folk blues ends up a forgery—made in Malaysia.

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