Karen and the Sorrows
Sounds Like: Seventies-era folk rock, accented by generous amounts of pedal steel and a steady social conscience
For Fans of: Emmylou Harris, Lilly Hiatt, the idea of Dolly Parton fronting Tom Petty's Heartbreakers
Why You Should Pay Attention: Led by singer-songwriter Karen Pittelman, Brooklyn-based Karen and the Sorrows are central figures in New York's burgeoning queer country scene, a sprawling group of performers that includes My Gay Banjo and the Paisley Fields. New York native Pittelman founded the inclusive performance round-ups the Gay Ole Opry and the Queer Country Quarterly, and organized the 2017 Another Country festival in July to support and promote fellow country-loving musicians identified as queer or trans. In August, Karen and the Sorrows released their second full-length LP The Narrow Place, featuring the kind of heartbreak and loneliness you'd expect of any solid country recording (see "Can't Miss What You Never Had"), plus a surprising gender-flipped take on the bro-country truck song in "Take Me for a Ride."
They Say: "I come from an organizing, social justice background – I can't stop myself," says Pittelman. "I want to say, 'Focus on the music! It's hard enough to have a band!' And then all of a sudden I'm organizing a day-long event in July, right before the album came out. How did I end up doing this? But I did it to myself. Nobody made me do it. I'm still proud of that one, even though it kicked my ass, because I want this conversation about gender and sexuality to be intersecting with the conversation about race in country music and Americana."
Hear for Yourself: "Back Down to the Dirt," with its desolate lead guitar work, is a sinewy, agitated tune about losing everything and seeing the way forward through the destruction.