The Irish and Scots who travelled to the new world back in the day were drawn to the mountains in the south of America. Hillbilly and bluegrass then fed into country and rock ‘n’ roll and eventually Americana was born. It’s boom time for the genre now, too, with every city slicker heading to make hay(seed) in Nashville. Karen Turley was over there a couple of years ago, but she’s found her own sound these days. By Alan O’Hare.
It’s funny how some instruments take you to a certain place.
Pedal steel guitar has always been a signpost for something generic to me. Obviously, that’s daft… but, still, music makes no sense does it? It’s all about feel. ‘New Strings’, the new single from Omagh-born-Liverpool-living songwriter Karen Turley, is all about feel. But it feels anything but generic. Sure, the shuffling beat and strummed acoustic guitars place the song in a long line of Tennessee tunes, but the Nashville sound sought here stirs something else, too.
You’ll find what it is in the blue soul of ‘Not You’ and also in Turley’s lovely cover of Paul Simon’s sublime ‘Kathy’s Song’. There’s a hint of Carly Simon in the former and it’s the American west coast country folk sound that this émigré has found herself drawn to. Turley’s Celtic vowels haven’t arrived out of nowhere, though, and back in 2015 the always-gigging musician was chosen to travel to Nashville for a week of songwriting workshops and activities with the likes of Beth Nielsen Chapman.
Since then, two acclaimed EPs have followed from the singer who set-up bluegrass trio The Jesse Janes back in the day, and older songs such as ‘Laugh Hard’ (listen below) and ‘Restless’ share spaces with the sounds of the brilliant Hurray For The Riff Raff and Margo Price respectively. Lilting lament ‘Little Old Me’ is always one to listen out for in any Turley solo set, but it’s the sound of ‘New Strings’ – and it’s mesmerising coda complete with clever percussive nod to ‘The Boxer’ – that we’ll return to: it represents a serious step-up.
With all things Americana stepping out of the shadows, you get the feeling Turley’s time is now.
‘New Strings’, by Karen Turley, is out now on iTunes
Karen Turley with Acadian Driftwood, Limerance
Saturday April 21st 2018, 8pm
Studio 2, Parr Street, Liverpool
Photo by Marlie Centawer