It seemed like it would be fun to play a songwriting game for a lark. Peter Karp and Sue Foley, two talented singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists started writing songs for each other’s amusement a few years back, and that wound up producing a terrific duet album, He Said She Said, in 2010. That record topped blues charts around the country. With critics offering nothing but praise, and sales as good as or better than anything either had done on their own, Karp and Foley decided to let their fortunes run together for a while and see what happens next.
Sue Foley has the bigger name on the blues circuit, having released ten albums since her 1992 debut Young Girl Blues. The 44-year-old is equally well known for her scintillating skills on guitar, her incisive and open-hearted songwriting, and a voice that is thinner than most blues shouters, but which is capable of highly expressive, soulful delivery nonetheless. Peter Karp hasn’t had her high profile, spending much of his adulthood staying away from releasing records or playing live gigs. In 2004, he recorded and toured with former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, and then signed to Blind Pig in 2007 for his first shot at international distribution. His voice is immediately convincing, a big, bold, soul-drenched instrument that makes even his most troubadour-influenced material sound bluesy. In addition, he’s a terrific keyboard player and an elegantly stylish slide guitarist.
Peter Karp & Sue Foley's Beyond the Crossroads
Beyond the Crossroads brings the two back together, though this time they don’t split the songwriting evenly. Karp writes six, Foley three, and for the first time, they team up to produce three together. But Foley fans should not fear; her presence is every bit as important as that of Karp, with the two of them sharing vocal duties as well as guitar solos throughout the record.
One of those co-writes, “We’re Gonna Make It” starts the record on an optimistic note even though it references the current economic troubles so many ordinary people are going through these days. The contrast between Karp’s powerhouse vocal and Foley’s quieter, yet focused responses is enchanting. They really do sound as though they are reinforcing each other’s ability to believe in the ability of the other to get them through the tough times. “Analyze’n Blues,” another co-write, picks up on the frustration with spending so much time talking about what is going wrong. “Lost in a world of information, theories, thoughts and news/conversation’s going nowhere, analyze’n blues,” they sing, before Foley comes up with the answer: “shut up and make love to me/quiet down my body and my mind.” The long, beautifully played guitar outro sounds like they’ve gotten past thinking and onto feeling.
More Than I Bargained For
The next three songs are all Karp’s. “Beyond the Crossroads” is classic R&B, right in the wheelhouse for Karp’s talents. With gospel-influenced backing vocals, Karp suggests the importance of taking the right path, of finding a way to get through life and accepting a helping hand whenever possible. Karp admits he’s made wrong decisions, but he’s made right ones, too, and that things are getting better. No wonder they took this song for the album title; this is clearly a record of hope amidst the bad times, and acknowledgement that people need other people.
“Fine Love” follows this, a thrilling bit of pop wonderment with a chorus that hooks as hard as anything out there these days. Foley keeps insisting, “it don’t sound so good but people it’s a fine fine fine love,” to which one can only reply, “but it does sound good.” The Swingadelic Horns anchor “At the Same Time,” a song in which Karp and Foley seem to be discussing all sorts of different angles regarding a potential affair. “Sometimes the good things that get you through are the bad things you need to do at the same time.”
Foley’s “Take Your Time” is an album highlight. Over a killer acoustic guitar riff, Foley sing/speaks lyrics of frustration but not despair with men, money, and life itself. The sound of this cut is seductive, easy-going, and all charm. “More Than I Bargained For” is the last co-write of the album, a Stax-styled soul number on which Karp reigns in his big voice and Foley sings slightly louder and smoother than usual, making for a delightfully effective duet. Karp plays a perfectly constructed slide guitar part here which fits neatly within the parameters of the song. Foley does the same on her non-slide playing on Karp’s “Blowin’.”
Chance of Rain
“Resistance” is a song wherein Foley decides analyze’n isn’t always bad. As Karp lays down a beautiful piano-based groove, Foley sings “my resistance against myself keeps me yearning for something else.” Karp follows this with “Chance of Rain,” his own sing-speak number in which he suggests it’s too easy to overthink the possibility of something going wrong. Foley’s acoustic guitar and Karp’s piano are delightful to hear on this one. There is no overthinking on “Plank Spank,” a rocking instrumental giving Karp and Foley a chance to challenge each other with hot solos. While Karp’s slide would seem to have the initial advantage, Foley’s skills easily match his. Call it a draw.
The album ends with Karp’s “You Got A Problem,” the only cut which doesn’t work completely right. It’s a jump-blues, which isn’t exactly his strength as a vocalist, and despite funny lyrics – “You and I both know that you’re so drunk and lazy/because I’m the kind of man that drives women crazy” – he doesn’t sound convincing playing the role of such a bad man.
Steve's Bottom Line
Beyond the Crossroads is a perfect companion piece to the new Bonnie Raitt album, Slipstream. Both records are full of good, bluesy R&B songs played and sung beautifully with solid arrangements. Peter Karp and Sue Foley aren’t as well known as Raitt, but their music can withstand the comparison. It’s that good. (Blind Pig Records, released April 17, 2012)