Roots Rock / Americana / Alt-country
On Sonic Bloom, Karen Hudson’s long-awaited third release, she digs deep down in the dirt to exorcise demons and give herself permission to blossom and thrive. The musical roots go deep and broad — it’s ‘Americana’ for people who like to mix The Rolling Stones with their Patsy Cline.
Sonic Bloom is also upbeat—even the dark songs have a wry humor. Producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel reveals the toe-tapping heart of every number, in a production that’s equal parts “Twang” and “Thump.” Hudson drew on familiar faces from NYC’s Roots Music scene, including longtime collaborators Stephen B. Antonakos (Five Chinese Brothers/The Blue Chieftains) on guitar, bass player Skip Ward (whose credits include Steve Martin’s Grammy-winning “The Crow”), drummer Tom Curiano (Garland Jeffreys), and Skip Krevens on pedal steel. Ambel also brought in drummer Kenny Soule, and contributed some of his own trademark gritty guitar vibe.
The youngest child of five, raised in Long Island by a single mom, Hudson hammed it up in backyard plays and, later, sang Linda Ronstadt songs in acting auditions. She drew on years glued to her Toot-a-Loop transistor radio soaking up the sounds of AM radio, which included a combination of pop, soul and country as inspiration to pen her own songs. After moving to NYC, she released two well-received discs, “Bittersweet” and “Hudson River View” and opened for acts as diverse as Walter Salas Humara (Silos), Madeleine Peyroux, and Pete Seeger.
On Sonic Bloom, Hudson reckons with the important men in her life while firmly staking out her own territory as a grown woman. She reflects on the loss of her brother-in-law, a man Hudson had regarded as a second father, on the deceptively chipper “Dead Letter File.” She summons up painful memories of her real father in “Mama Was a Train Wreck,” a sardonic minor key rocker, flatly stating “Daddy was a train.” Hudson revs up her honkytonk sass to belt out a New-Wave pop anthem imploring her man to “Call Me,” and sweet talking him into reconciling on “The Better Half of Me.” Temptation is examined from both sides of the equation, with the flirtatious, girl-group take of “A Woman Knows These Things,” and “Daydream,” where the forbidden tastes pedal-steel sweet. The album concludes with the jangly folk-rock anthem “The Beauty of the Now”— co-written with guitarist Steve Antonakos, who plays the catchy 12-string guitar hook— which celebrates realizing “You don’t have to work so hard, open up let down your guard . . . all you gotta do is be.”
Hudson first conceived Sonic Bloom’s song cycle as part of an art project she funded with grants. Financing the recording through a New York Foundation for the Arts fiscal sponsorship gave her the creative freedom that helped her to “think about how my work affects people and continues a legacy—whether by being an activist in song, or interpreting old folk songs, or, like me, being just another struggling artist who sings about her dead alcoholic dad.”
By affirming her belief that it’s never to late to claim your own creativity, Karen Hudson hopes that Sonic Bloom will inspire others to nourish their own roots—and cultivate their own sweet blooms. —C. Adams