Karen Jonas is an award-winning singer-songwriter, and if you listen to her catalog, you can see why. For one thing, she’s prolific and has released five full-length albums since 2014, beginning with Oklahoma Lottery. With regular use of pedal steel, Jonas’ songs are perfect for honky-tonks where it’s not unusual for people who have just met to become dance partners. That being said, her delivery is so smooth and sweet, she could just as easily provide the vocals for a band in a dark jazz club. On top of that, Jonas writes touching songs that are vignettes of everyday life and everyday people.
The new EP Summer Songs came about when she was working on a collection of poems called Gumballs. Of the EP, she said, “I began to hear flashes of these songs as I was writing my poetry collection, songs I started writing years ago. I reconnected with them and spent a lot of time processing and editing. I was able to update them to my current songwriting sensibilities while maintaining the sweet vulnerability of the inspiration for the summer-themed tunes.”
The EP begins with Jonas’ version of “The Boys of Summer”. Between Don Henley and the Ataris, you’ve probably heard this song more times than you can count, but you’ve never heard it quite like this. This version goes heavy on the pedal steel and maintains a rock component in the lead guitar and the rhythm. Beyond the steel, Jonas’ sweet vocals make this version stand out from its predecessors.
“Summer’s Hard for Love” also features the steel, but this one has a slower tempo. The muted instrumentation and vocals give the song a sort of jazzy feel. It’s not quite the cabaret sound of her song, “Butter”, but the jazz component is there, and it blends well with the pedal steel’s twang. “Thunder on the Battery” is an exciting song with a mood akin to what you hear from the Wallflowers. That’s partly due to the melody and partly due to the story told.
The EP closes with “Summer Moon”, a song that features just vocals and acoustic guitar. Jonas’ voice is barely above a whisper for most of the track, but it’s that much more potent due to the spare instrumentation. Considering all the poetry that the moon has inspired, this song should have a distinct poetic quality, particularly since you hear a sound like a chorus of cicadas at the end. Summer Songs does what it’s meant to do: it draws you in and gets you to explore more of her music, which is so very worthwhile.