Many artists get sabotaged by rave reviews that compare them to legendary performers they'll never have the chance of surpassing. How many singer/songwriters once called the next Dylan have faded into obscurity, or found their struggle to present their own unique music hampered by the unrealistic expectations such comparisons cause? All that said, singer, bluesman, folkie, and songwriter Peter Karp should be a lot better known than he is. It's tempting to say he combines John Prine's wordplay, Joe Ely's rocking instincts, Billy Joe Shaver's fatalistic outlook, Tim McGraw's good looks, and an expressive tenor that combines the fire of a young Steve Earle and the lazy drawl of Mose Allison, but that wouldn't be right. Karp is his own man, an artist who blends roots music styles into something that combines and transcends blues, country, rock, honky tonk, R&B, swamp, swing, and jazz. He may record for Blind Pig, a San Francisco-based blues logo, but he's no more blues than he is country. He personifies the amorphous Americana movement, freely shifting styles to keep listeners guessing, and dancing too. His lyrics combine working-class angst with college-educated insight, and a deadly sense of humor that keeps things from getting too dark. The 12 tunes on this album are all winners, each full of their own singular charm, even though they can easily fit into familiar industry pigeonholes. "I Ain't Deep" is a nasty blues-rock tune given a '40s swing feel by Popa Chubby's slide guitar work and the hook is a real winner -- "I ain't deep, baby; I'm just down." On the country rocker "Rubber Bands and Wire," Karp introduces several dissolute characters in an effort to win back his lady love, implicitly telling her, "Hey, compared to these guys I ain't so bad." His off-hand desperation and the surrealistic humor of the lyrics give the tune an unexpected twist. "Goodbye Baby" hinges on a cleaver turn of phrase -- "I can live with mine, but not your lies." It's a kiss-off song so full of self-depreciating humor that it makes breaking up sound easy to do. The song smokes along on a Waylon Jennings' stomp accented by Karp's sizzling harmonica work. Karp's B-3 gives the fatalistic "Runnin'" a jaunty sanctified feel; self-destruction seldom sounds this appealing. He follows it with "The Grave," a spooky slide guitar workout that advises people to keep their darkest secrets to themselves, no matter what friends and lovers say. He sounds like an old sad soul as he meditates on mortality and life's compromises. Every tune is arranged to give maximum effect to Karp's vocals. His lithe tenor is playful, macho, insouciant, innocent, and worldly, telling jokes that make you wince when you laugh. The backing musicians are all top-notch and every track smokes with understated virtuosity. So why isn't this guy a star?
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AllMusic Review by AllMusic