(New Album Review) Karen Haglof- Western Holiday

Here’s a fine country music album coming from an unlikely player in popular music history: an alumni of the underrated post-punk group Band of Susans. Karen Haglof’s debut solo album Western Holiday is, like so much of so-called alt-country, a work of lyrical maturity and charm. However, the album has seemed so far to have slipped under the radar of much of the music press, so I am glad that it was forwarded to me, and that I had the opportunity to give it a listen.

After a brief stint in the noisy and hard-to-classify Band of Susans, Haglof departed from the music business altogether for medical school. She has returned, as far as I can guess, purely out of love for the music.

Western Holiday is good-times music, for the most part. In this way, it’s sort of old-fashioned, I suppose. I can hardly imagine the melancholy of Iris Dement sounding at home in a typical honky-tonk joint, but Western Holiday is something that meets the level of quality of a record by, say, Dement or Mary Gauthier, yet seems more appropriate for the good times than the sad. Records like this are something of an anachronism, and they seem to conjure up visions of the older, somewhat simpler times when they were more common. The songwriting is mostly cheerful, with no tales of woe or short-stories about loner cowboys and cowgirls in sight. Tunes like “Dog in the Yard” and “Won’t Wake up To You” are brash and confident– Karen doesn’t take crap from anybody.

The most interesting track by far, though, is the one sighing aside, “Don’t Straddle Fences,” the one track that seems to vaguely hint at Haglof’s musical past. I’m reminded of all the times when The Mekons and Doll by Doll mixed up their murky rock tunes with the faint influence of American country music. Of course, the kinds of crowds who go for music at this point in the road are really a pretty specific niche. In any case, Karen Haglof joins the ranks of Willard Grant Conspiracy and The Walkabouts as one of the coolest artists to arrive at the intersection point of rock and country.


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