Karen Jonas Releases Carter-Inspired Single 'Rich Man's Valley' Ahead of Seventh Album

The album, The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch, will be out August 9.

By: May. 10, 2024
Karen Jonas Releases Carter-Inspired Single 'Rich Man's Valley' Ahead of Seventh Album
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Having cemented herself as a fearless artist and colorful storyteller, Virginia-based Karen Jonas is readying the release of her seventh album, The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch (August 9).

The first single, "Rich Man's Valley," out now, offers an optimistic telling of the Carter family's journey from their humble beginnings in Poor Valley, Virginia, to the most revered echelons of country music history. She also launched a new Kickstarter campaign. 

“Rich Man's Valley” rumbles victoriously down the mountain like a Model T, complete with twangy guitar, barroom piano, fiddle and a playful yodel chorus. “The Carter family went from barefoot fruit tree salesmen to fame and fortune, truly by the grace of their guts, voices, and pens,” Jonas says. “They don't make 'em like that anymore.”

Jonas plotted The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch before she began writing for her 2023 release The Restless, which Holler called “a deep exploration of love and vulnerability.” Quietly ambitious and forever writing, Jonas returned to the Kitsch theme a mere days after the release of The Restless, after catching Baz Luhrmann's 2022 Elvis movie on the plane returning from SXSW. Instead of watching the last hour of the movie when she landed, Jonas spat out eight songs over as many days. They would become the core of The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch.

Some songs on The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch are direct Elvis-story inspirations, and some are expansions of the themes. Bright, jumpy-fun “Four Cadillacs” comes from a scene where Elvis and his manager sit on a ferris wheel, daydreaming about their potential together. Bluesy “Mama's Gone” expands on Elvis grieving the death of his mother with a sweaty, reverb-washed guitar and horns. “Call Dr. Nick” takes on Elvis's controversial pill-prescribing doctor and the pharmaceutical industry at the same time, slyly selling “cotton candy pills in little orange bottles” atop a swampy, dissonant soundscape, led by Jonas on banjo. 

“Let's Go to Hawaii” is a sunny, island-themed track that alludes to both Elvis's movie career and Jonas's not-so-secret love for Jimmy Buffett. A vintage housewife tries to persuade her husband to take her on vacation, showcasing Jonas's lyrical prowess: cute but never trite, squarely thematic but still somehow unexpected. Piano-soaked Vegas-elopement love song “Gold in the Sand” paints a dreamy neon-lit picture with a confident artist's brush. 

The record is full of this optimism, a technicolor portrait of vintage magic. But Jonas also sees the shadows: waste, excess, addiction.

“The '50s birthed the concept that we can and should buy things we don't really need," Jonas says. "Post-war factories, the baby boom, suburbia: we started manufacturing an idea of joy that we still sell today.”

 “With every new invention and fashion trend, something else lands in the trash,” she continues. “It keeps me up at night. Our kids are inheriting a shopping habit and a huge pile of garbage.”

Recorded live in the studio, The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch features long-time collaborator, guitarist Tim Bray at his twangy best, piano/organ by Washington, DC staple Benji Porecki, fiddle by NYC studio pro Bobby Hawk, and pedal steel by Ahren Buchheister. Bassist Seth Morrissey and drummer Ben Tufts gelled like only old friends can. The album oozes with layered, textured excitement, reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band or Dusty in Memphis, or even Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. 

“I was obsessed with the idea of energy in the room,” Jonas says, “I told everyone we were going to have fun about 1,000 times, and you know what? We did.” The intricacies of a tight, song-focused band, with all of the mid-session discoveries and documented snap decisions, take the stellar writing of The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch to the next level. Listen through the epic “Shake Bump and Grind Show,” a pearl-clutching attempt to control Elvis's sexuality on stage, to hear the band working together in the room.

Ambitious, smart, and magnetically retro, The Rise and Fall of American Kitsch will charm you with dazzlingly quirky storytelling, stellar performances, and an adventurous Americana soundscape. It's nuanced enough that you'll want to soak it in with front-to-back listens, and fun enough for a road trip soundtrack. With American Kitsch, Karen Jonas is clearly on the rise.

Photo Credit: Ryan Poe


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