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  • Writer's pictureLuke Wolk

Album Review of "Creatures In The Garden" By Karney

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Artist: Karney

Album: Creatures In The Garden

Release 2023 Website: Karney's latest effort Creatures In The Garden is a ten song journey from the soft acoustic side of a wonderful singer/songwriter to a harder edged Alternative approach. The thread that holds it all together into a cohesive statement is an exceptionally strong vocal performance from Anna Karney. The album interestingly strolls through multiple styles that even stops for a Dio cover, which is not something that one typically hears on a record like this one, but more about that later!

Sinners and Saints set the wheels in motion. It is primarily an acoustic piece that would fit perfectly on any singer/songwriter playlist. The vocal is coming from a rock place, moving significantly more air than what is typically heard on a track like this, reminding me a bit of Linda Perry from the early 90's band 4 Non Blondes. The presence of a very well executed electric guitar solo in the context of an acoustic piece echoes Pink Floyd's approach to creating a memorable soundscape. Dio's Rainbow In The Dark is a gutsy move for a singer, let alone one that is functioning in the Folk Rock genre. This recording has so many genre bending ingredients, but still manages to keep one foot firmly planted in the singer/songwriter world. The Dio cover is a perfect example of it. On my first listen I thought I recognized the lyric and then looked at the screen to confirm it. To do a mellow version of this song was such an interesting choice that could not have been landed more smoothly than this. The performance eventually evolves into something closer to the original, but it is where it started that was so compelling. I applaud not only the courage to take on a cover of a powerhouse vocalist like Dio, but also the ability to rework it into something great in its own right.

Shell Shock Girl is another standout that returns to the simplicity of an acoustic guitar and exceptionally strong vocal. Anna's approach to acoustic music is quite unique and compelling. Where most artists would take a softer vocal approach to deliver a sad story she takes the bold road, creating a picture of confidence that is peppered with a hint of anger. It's almost like she is coming from the mindset of a punk artist, in terms of her commitment to the sound. A lot of things can be said about punk music, but a lack of commitment from the people who create it isn't one of them. Anna seems to bring that spirit to acoustic music, but with the vocal chops of a well trained pro that I imagine can sing just about anything. This album is very difficult to classify as any one genre. It is a journey through so many influences that coalesce into one unique statement. An artist that comes to mind is Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not stylistically of course, but how he interpreted his influences. He had many, the two most obvious being Jimi Hendrix and Albert King. Although their fingerprints were quite clear in his music he somehow put it all into a blender and out came SRV. He made it into something that was his own and very powerful. I don't think that approach can be engineered, but it can be found if the artist looks in the right spots and then adds the most important ingredient which is an unapologetic and unwavering commitment to it. It is that commitment that Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Sex Pistols and Dio all have in common. This wonderful album from Karney has that same quality. The influences are worn on the sleeve but it is truly its own thing. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of something left of center from the Indie music world. I suspect it will find lots of listeners.

Check out the interview as well

Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career.

I started on piano at four years of age, picked up the guitar at eight and started writing songs. I used to improvise on classical songs by changing the rhythm and chords. It was not received too well by my teachers. I played in a lot of bands after high school both on keys and guitar. The first project I ever considered a band was called Voices, we played around SF a lot. This is also when I was writing music for ballet and modern dance because I was a piano accompanist for dance classes. I was also backing cabaret singers in the night clubs. Then my band went to London to pursue our music careers and changed our name to The Dodgy Boilers. Both bands were New Wave with Funk and Metal influences. We got signed in London but our visas ran out so we came home and renamed our band Stepchildren. We added a DJ to the band crossing hip hop with metal. After that part of my life came to a close, I continued writing songs as a singer-songwriter and eventually got a band together, The Karney Band. This is also the time I began a fifteen year career composing music and creating sound fx for computer games. So far I have recorded about seven albums and a few EPs and singles. My gaming credits include Lucas Arts titles, and Sim City titles. It was after I no longer wanted to write music for games that I decided to become a music educator in the public schools, in vocal and guitar music. The one constant in my life, the thing that continues on, is songwriting.

Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Musical influences are almost infinite. For my singer-songwriter side I came up with Cat Stevens, Carol King, Woody Guthrie, Pete Townsend, Joni Mitchell. For my punk side Patti Smyth, PIL, Ramones. For my guitar picking I listen to Gabin Dabire, Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabate, CSNY. For songwriting The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Sound Garden, Jane’s Addiction. Then there is Steve Reich, Beethoven, Erik Whitacre.

Non-musical influences; my mother Margarete who was a beautiful poet. Lawrence Ferlinghetti who was my neighbor, Harper Lee for having written To Kill A Mockingbird, Kurt Vonnegut, my junior high school band teacher Mr. Pleasure, (I played clarinet for a while).

What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician?

Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’, and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.

Is there a particular song that has resonated with you for a long time?

Imagine by John Lennon.

What's your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far?

This album that I just released ‘Creatures In The Garden’. I am not just saying that to promote, I really am proud of this latest album.

Tell me about your favorite performance in your career.

I have no favorite performance, there have been so many performances it is impossible to choose one. I started performing as a child on piano, so far it has been an amazing journey.

What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?

It was actually a teacher and he said that no matter how good you get, there is always someone who can play circles around you. That has kept me on my toes, always striving to improve.

What's new in the recording of your music?

Doing a song by Ronnie James Dio. I was not a hard rock fan coming up so I never listened to his music. But once I did, I was a fan, not so much of the style, but his voice, his passion for his art form, and much of his lyric writing.

How has your music changed over the years?

In earlier bands I tried to match the style of the day. Now I just let the song be what it is and I don’t try to adhere to a particular style.

What inspires you to write the music you write?

A need to express, a love of music, social justice, my addiction to music.

What made you want to play the instrument you play?

My first instrument is voice. I love to sing because it is a direct expression from my soul. Singing takes me on an emotional journey like no other. Guitar is a very expressive and versatile instrument. Especially the acoustic guitar which you hold close to your body. I love the electric guitar for all of its textures as it soars above the music with a singing voice all its own. I love the piano too but for different reasons.

How does your latest album differ from any of your others in the past?

I have written about the planet in the past, but with this album I attempted to lean every song lyrically in the direction of climate crisis awareness and the beauty of the earth.

I had a unified theme when writing the music for this newest album, and it is the reason it is called Creatures In The Garden.

How are you continuing to grow musically?

By listening to as much music as I can. By exploring songs and pieces to play and expand my technique, rhythm, and chord textures.

Are there any musicians who inspire you that are not famous? What qualities do you admire about them?

I admire my music students. I admire their commitment to a new experience, their willingness to learn music they have never heard of before. I admire their resilience in making music happen even though they face some very difficult academic challenges.

The most difficult part about learning guitar or any instrument is going from nothing to something. It takes a special kind of grit, and my students show that daily.

Describe your worst performance. What did you learn from this experience?

I performed in Seattle at a cafe as a solo singer-songwriter and there were literally only two people in the audience. While it was very challenging to keep my energy up, they seemed to like it. The next day there was a great review and picture of me in a local Seattle paper, and it turned out they were the photographer and writer. It really brought home the quote by the great BB King, “There is no such thing as a throw away performance”. No matter who is or isn’t in the audience, those present deserve your best.

Tell me what your first music teacher was like. What lessons did you learn from them that you still use today?

My first music teacher was old Miss Birmingham who had been alive during the San Francisco 1906 earthquake. She was the first person to teach me how to read music, I still remember my very first lesson. I often encounter music teachers who don’t believe that learning to read music at 4 or 5 years of age is either too advanced, or stifles creativity. She was not one of those teachers. I am living proof that you can learn to read music at the same age you learn to read words, and that if you let a child create without limits, nothing can stop them.

How would your previous band mates describe you and your work ethic?

I really don’t know, but I hope they see me as a fair and hard working musician.

If you could play anywhere or with anyone in the world, where or with who would it be?

It would be nice to tour the U.S. doing festivals and venues with good sound systems, and of course with my band.

If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be?

Change the streaming business model to favor musicians, not the streaming companies. Right now the streaming services and big media companies are making a vast majority of the revenue. Single streams should pay more to the artist. With all the advances in technology, the listener is hearing a very low bandwidth of sound compared to vinyl. And while touring is one of the few ways left to make some money as an artist, it is very costly, and hard to keep doing at an indie DIY level. Some clubs still make the musicians pay to play! Somehow or another music as important as it is to everyone, has been monetarily devalued in the U.S.

What are your biggest obstacles as a musician?

As a musician I have no obstacles. There will always be a river of possibilities to draw from. As far as the business of being a musician is concerned, I think it is tough to be eclectic in this day and age. It used to be that radio stations played a wide variety of music and so it was inspiring to discover an artist you might not have known about before. But these days it is a very segregated industry and so it is difficult for me to fit into any one genre.

What do you think the best aspects of the music business are?

Being able to promote oneself, and build an indie business around one’s own music.

What strengths do you have that you believe make you the musician you are?

I have an aptitude in music that has allowed me to make my living as a musician in one way or another since my teens. I have had many great teachers, and I have worked with some really inspiring musicians. So far I have never had writer’s block for very long, the music just keeps flowing through me.

Do you have any weaknesses that you're actively working to improve on?

Trying to book shows. I really don’t like that part of the business. I would love to have a booking agent.

Describe your favorite and least favorite part about being a musician.

My favorite part of being a musician are all the people I’ve met and played with, interacting with an audience, all the adventures I have had, and being able to inspire young minds to discover their own passion for music. The least favorite part about being a musician is hauling my gear.

Do you have any anxiety about performing live?

Not really, I practice enough that I am prepared and ready to go.

Performing live is like a psychic journey, I love the moments that are almost trance-like.

If you had to choose one... live performance or studio work, which do you prefer and why?

Live performance always. It’s the interaction between musicians, with the audience, and the fact that it is a unique moment that can not be duplicated. Each show is its own wonderful moment. In the age of AI one can see and hear that what they are experiencing is the real deal. If you go to a show and the performer is lip syncing, get your money back.

What do you think about online music sharing?

I think people should pay for music. If they do share it, it would be nice if it was done with the intent of discovering something new which they can then purchase. Support your local musician! Just like a movie, or a pair of shoes, music is a tangible product that a musician has spent money to bring to the ears of the listener. It is always nice to show your love by actually paying for the songs you enjoy.

Describe your creative process when you write new music.

I really can’t tell you how a song starts, an idea, an emotion, a riff…but to really get it to take shape I meditate on it constantly throughout the day. Then I just play, and play until it has a shape. I don’t tend to finish songs but I get a strong outline, and then Michael, my producer always has more to add. I make sure to leave room for that, because I think most songs are better as collaborations.

Other than being a musician, what was your dream job growing up?

Being a singer and actor. I was a serious drama and musical theater student for about four or five years.

Give us some advice for new musicians just starting out in the industry.

Get your business knowledge together while you are writing songs and having fun. Read, research, go to trade shows, learn as much as you can about all the ins and outs of the business. Both as an independent musician and one who is striving to get a good record deal.

Make connections, go to shows. And one other piece of advice, if you are in a band with your friends; friendship and business are two different things. Not taking care of business when working with friends can bring too much risk to your endeavors.

What is your favorite piece of gear and why?

My acoustic guitar, because that is my main songwriting tool.

How do you prepare for your performances and recording work?

Practice, practice, practice! As for recording, I get a strong outline of the song and then let the creative juices flow in the studio.

What does your practice routine consist of?

Running scales, playing Etudes, maybe trying to play a cover song which helps to warm up my voice. Then I start practicing my own songs, starting with the ones I need the most work on. Sometimes I only practice half the set so I can really dig into challenging spots.

What do you like most about your new album?

The production for one. Michael Rosen did an outstanding job on mixing and producing. The second thing I love about my new album are all the amazing musicians that are on it. They all contributed their hearts and souls to the music, and it shows.

The third thing I love about the album is being able to quote Mr. Rogers in the song Peace Is More.

What artists do you enjoy listening to nowadays?

I am listening a lot to El último aliento by Zsófia Boros, her guitar playing is sublime.

Another album I listen to a lot is Floating Points by Pharoah Sanders, it is very relaxing and an interesting crossover of electronic, jazz, and symphonic music.

How do you promote your band and shows?

Social media, email, word of mouth mostly. I also have a radio promoter for each album release. It is great to know the songs are being enjoyed by community and college radio listeners all across the U.S., in Canada, and even abroad in Scotland and Germany.

What is the best way to stay updated on current news; gigs, releases, etc.

I think my karneyband facebook page is probably the most up to date. Second would be my website, however it is not as easy to update the website so really Facebook is the place. I do use Instagram, but there is only so much time in the day to do all of it. I am a teacher and I do have to grade homework almost every evening. Plus practicing, and trying to have a social life.

Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums?

I have an album release show Sept. 24th at The Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco. Almost all the musicians will be performing, so that will be about eight or nine people on the stage. My band plays at 7:30pm. The entire night is a climate crisis action event, tying my songs about the planet into actionable resources to explore at the show.

What's next for your band?

Taking a break while I write more songs. But for now the only thing is the album release show. The rest we shall see….

What are your interests outside of music?

Walking my dog, swimming, mystery books and shows, sci-fi books and shows, long distance walking, socializing with my friends, going to comedy shows.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I am married to trumpet player Bill Ortiz who toured with Santana for seventeen years. He is on Smooth, and many other hit songs. And I get to listen to him practice every day! He is the trumpet player on my song ‘Across The Planet (remix)’.

Are there any artists outside of your genre that have not had much influence on your music that you enjoy?

I love Bethovan, Steve Reich, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, King Sunny Ade,

Anything Else You Would Like to Include?

It has been a great pleasure working with the musicians on Creatures In The Garden. I am so fortunate to live in the SF Bay Area because there is a real treasure trove of great talent here. I have nothing but gratitude in my heart for their contributions.

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