The first thing you need to know about Peter Karp is that he’s an original. He records for a blues label and certainly he’s at home with the blues, but to label him a blues singer is like saying Muddy Waters was a guitar player: it’s true but doesn’t come close to describing the man or his music.
Come up with a better label to put Karp in, and he’ll immediately do something to shatter it.
He’s a fine pianist and guitar player and can sing with feeling, but it’s as a songwriter that he excels. He writes songs about how to break up with your girlfriend (“Goodbye Baby”), about being crazy in love (“All I Really Want”), as well as the books and records on his shelf (“Dirty Weather”).
All of his songs are carefully crafted. As you listen, you can hear the skill with which they’re put together, but they all sound as if he’s playing them for the first time, discovering them in the act of performing them.
And as the songs unfold, Karp’s humor and odd quirkiness become obvious, taking front and center. Here’s a verse from “Rubber Bands & Wire.”
“Samuel Thomas Dowel was born
to make love it seemed
initialized everything he wrote with S.T.D.
It was during his third marriage
he met Lili at the Club Delight.
He said, ‘Lili, you’re the only girl
in the world for me — tonight.'”
That’s good stuff. It’s clever and funny, but it’s also good storytelling because it captures the character’s essence in an image. You laugh even as you nod in recognition.
And Karp is nothing if not a master storyteller. Writer, musician, singer, performer — Peter Karp has it all. In Shadows & Cracks, he has created an album that deserves extravagant praise. That’s why I’m praising it extravagantly.
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