Karen Mansfield’s full-length debut album, “Thistle & Boon,” drops Feb. 14, but Makin Waves has a review now.
Jersey Shore singer-songwriter Karen Mansfield and I go back further than she probably would want me to tell you, but suffice to say, I was one of the first music journalists to write about her when she first appeared on the scene. I gave a very positive review of a demo filled with potential. But rather than pursue the heartbreak of the fickle music industry, Mansfield opted instead for motherhood and wisely focused on her daughter rather than song craft.
Now that the lass has grown, Mansfield has returned to the music scene with a satchel of songs so worth hearing, she has taken the DIY route to get them heard. Her soon-to-be-released, fan-financed full-length debut, Thistle & Boon, follows a 2014 self-titled six-song EP. The new 10-song collection demonstrates a better grasp of the recording studio at the able hands of acclaimed Asbury Park-based Joss Stone producer Steve Greenwell. The album brings to mind such artists as Joan Baez, Chrissie Hynde, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams and Dusty Springfield. I believe their fans will enjoy Thistle & Boon, particularly the standout “There Was a Girl,” which was released as a single in November to scads of airplay and accolades.
Another fine track is the haunting leadoff “Lover for the Ride,” which sounds like a cross between themes to a James Bond film and a spaghetti western. Its splendidly spooky atmospherics should be shopped immediately to the next David Lynch project.
Also impressive are “Break Away,” a beautiful breakup song from the standpoint of understanding and best wishes rather than regret and remorse, and the surf-tinged “Gone,” a lyrical strong suit that expresses pain about a good relationship that doesn’t go bad, so much as vanishes. With a sad, weary vocal, Mansfield shares vivid imagery: “And as the leaves kiss up to the autumn wind, our love is gone.”
I also like the seemingly fun, sunny “Me and Leslie,” a true story about a youthful cross-country adventure that Mansfield managed to whittle down to a four-minute pop tune for a friend who lamented that she never saw her name in the title of a song. The tune sounds light and bright, but just like the similar tale of the coinciding 1991 film, Thelma & Louise, complicated relationships cast dark and devastating shadows.
Near the end of Thistle & Boon, Mansfield has contagious fun with “Ain’t ½ Bad,” a down ‘n’ dirty track that snakes around love’s imperfections and failures; “New Favorite Thing,” ’60s-inspired garage-pop that is a contender for Little Steven’s “Coolest Song in the World,” and the Lou Reed-like garage rocker, “Don’t Do.” While Mansfield is better at revealing love’s pain and sorrow, she closes “Thistle & Boon” with the infectious joy of “You Make Me Happy,” featuring the strong chorus: “…Like a glittering sun in my heart that makes my life glow. You make me happy with a feeling sublime. I’m alright wherever I go.”
Soliciting investors through PledgeMusic.com, Mansfeld assembled an all-star studio band, including Spin Doctors drummer Aaron Comess, Michael Jackson/Prince bassist Jack Daley, Splintered Sunlight keyboardist Billy Siegel and esteemed singer-songwriter Emily Grove on backing vocals. But the other stars of the record are Peter Gabriel guitarist Jimmy Farkas and Mark Hudson guitarist Jay Shepard, who play tastefully on Mansfield’s mellow material, yet rock out on her sassier tracks. Also playing rhythm guitar via an incentive on PledgeMusic.com is Shore Regional High School classmate Michael Sullivan on “There Was a Girl.”
Whether rocking out like she’s still in her dad’s garage or pursuing a more introspective folk-rock approach, Mansfield has something to say, and she says it well with a smoky, soulful, world-weary but sometimes sweet and pretty vox. She gets a lot of help from Greenwell, yet another mighty Asbury talent behind the boards, who seamlessly weaves the eclectic nature of Mansfield’s tunes into a tight, tasty, cohesive collection. His other credits range from rap philosophers Arrested Development to country diva Emily West.
Given the depth of the talent on Thistle & Boon, it will be interesting to see who Mansfield taps to back her at the Makin Waves 30th Anniversary Party on March 31 at the Wonder Bar. Emceed by Radio Jersey’s Lee Mrowicki, the celebration also will include our mutual friends Williams Honor, Colossal Street Jam, and Tom Kanach, plus my friends The Vansaders, Nalani & Sarina, Solace, Paul Whistler, Sutton Thomas, Mike Brody vs. the People, and Mike Daly & the Planets. Highlights also will include a free commemorative T-shirt to the first 100 guests, free stickers and anniversary cake for all, a free Wheel of Chance for sponsor prizes and drink specials. Partial proceeds will go to Asbury Park Music Foundation and Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County.