As I listened to the sophomore release (her first CD which debuted in 2010 is called Red Dress) of New York City by way of Baltimore singer songwriter Karyn Oliver, I thought of it as ‘the many moods of KO’ , since her vocal stylings are reminiscent of Crystal Gale, Eva Cassidy and Norah Jones and the songs range from the light and playful to the poignant and painful, from the wistful to the sweetly seductive. A hybrid album: country-folky-bluesy; altogether gutsy.
The cover and liner note photographs reflect those emotions as well, with the effervescently tumble curled, black leather clad song-bird gazing in a beckoning ‘come hither’ look that greets the listener initially and then welcomes them through the lyric pages with images of Oliver playing her guitar, staring in profile out her high-rise window, looking heavenward, smiling playfully and then, revealing perhaps a wee bit of sadness.
Another photo that peeks out from underneath the CD is of her furry four legged companion. According to Oliver: “The cat has a few names. I named him for the Steve Miller song “The Joker”, so his name is Maurice – we call him Mo. So we also call him The Gangster of Love and The Space Cowboy.”
The title song tickles with clever references to the historical namesake: “Your name for me was Magadalene. I am the keeper of your sin. I will always be your martyr. I’m not strong enough to call your bluff. I’ve never learned to walk on water. I can’t even swim, but I dive right in.”
A piece that powerfully points to the impact of domestic violence is entitled Weeping Willow Road. “Mama said it was all her fault. Every blow was lessons taught. A preacher’s wife must follow every little rule.”
Slip Away With Me which appears twice (once in accoustic form), is a tantalizing little treat; that invites a friend-into-lover into an interlude “Slip away with me, slip away with me. Give me one long night….”
A love song that questions the nature of a relationship and her place in it, called Before You Came Along offers the lines: “I was happy by myself before you came along. For all I know, you only want to live inside my songs.”
The cooing Fooling has the glorious recognition “Even if you’re miles and miles away from me. Even if we never touch again. Your heart turns up on my doorstep. And I let it in.”
All of the pieces, except for two were penned by Oliver. She covers Baby Come Back with her own sultry style. Written by J.C. Crowley and Peter Beckett, it is typically performed by Hall and Oates and Player.
The version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that Oliver has made her own, is now one of my new favorites. Rising and falling vocalizing carresses the ear “There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard. The holy or the broken hallelujah.” It ends with one long sustained note.
The sensual imagery of Water paints a word picture with “I remember the evening swims. Laughter and long tangled limits…..I’m dry,” sung in an eyes closed throaty moan that is utterly irresistable.
A heart melting dedication by the newlywed Oliver is to ” ‘The Frenchman’, without whom these songs would not have been possible. You make me want to sing. I love you.”
Magdalene is indeed a religious experience as Oliver holds up an overflowing chalice in a sonic salutation and worships at the altar of love. The listener is blessed.