This Is The Thread Where I Tell The World How Much I Love *Karen Alexander* And Her Album *Voyager*.

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I'm also kind of hoping that Karen is the random googling type and that she'll stop by and tell me a little bit about making this record.

Karen only made two albums in the 70's. And that was it. No more records. LUCKILY, wikipedia has some good info about her life. That other thread I started about 70's women reminded me of the wiki info that Karen sang back-up on Maria Muldaur and Wendy Waldman albums and that Karla Bonoff wrote the only non-original song to appear on any of Karen's albums.

Anyway, I don't even know if I can articulate clearly what it is about this album that effects me so deeply. It's a strange mood that she creates. Or moods. So bittersweet. This album makes me want to cry! For real. I don't even know who I would recommend it to. It's not easy to categorize. There are up-tempo songs on Voyager. Jazzy. Studio/session pop a la 1978. And I love these songs too. Especially Karen’s multi-tracked harmonies. But it’s the wistfulness of a song like “You’re My Sailor” that grabs me and doesn’t let go. God, what a song. Or the epic arrangement on “Bermuda Triangle” and its crazy orchestra blast of an intro. Undertow! That’s what these songs have. They sweep you under. Basically, all of the songs are either about longing for love, lost love, or being hurt by love! There is drama here. And a theatricality, but not the outsized version of Broadway or even big pop numbers. It all feels intimate and close and personal no matter what style she’s working in. It’s the kind of album you want to play on your own. My obsession with it feels teen-like. Like it has been this secret I’ve been keeping. I’ve worn my copy out! I’ve probably played it 50 times or more in the 2 or 3 years that I’ve had it. I still have yet to hear her debut. I just bought a cheap copy on Ebay. I know it won’t be the same as Voyager. I’m prepared to not like it as much! But I do love her voice. So conversational and smooth. Girlish, but girlishness with gravity attached. A voice with the weight that being burned and burning brightly for someone brings. The harmonies, again, are honey sweet. Her vocals on the song “Isaac Newton” give me shivers. I’m glad that Elektra/Asylum gave her the time and money to make this work of art. Full orchestra! Tons of session dudes. And all on the basis of one album that probably didn’t sell that well previously and all original songs that are quirky and –despite their catchiness- not easy sells. “I’d Rather Be Here With You” seems the most likely single if there was going to be one. It’s the most “rock” with El Lay electric guitar and Jim Keltner backbeat. Anyone who bought the album though would have been faced with the song after “I’d Rather Be Here With You” that begins “Life is not a safe place for the living…”. That song, “Believe In Me”, is utterly haunting. Beyond beautiful. If you are me!
Cuz like I said, I have no idea who would like this album. It probably helps if you are a bit of a drama queen. Maybe if you have a fondness for the idiosyncratic likes of the McGarrigle sisters or Mary Margaret O’Hara. Although Karen Alexander isn’t as quirky as that bunch. But she definitely had some unique ideas about how her music should sound. And her approach is definitely unique. “Bermuda Triangle” is no “normal” tune. You can’t pigeonhole this album. To dig it you would have to be someone who likes major label 70’s pop session production and wistful singer-songwriter balladry. And pretty voices. And the ocean. And doomed love. And love that knows no bounds.
You would NEVER know how rich this album is by looking at the cover. No offense to Karen or her face! But it’s just one of those generic singer-songwriter covers that you would pass by in a second if you were perusing the dollar bin. It definitely deserves to be heard by more people. I just have no idea who those people are.

scott seward, Monday, 18 February 2008 21:01 (eleven years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

I can't find a copy of this record locally. Should I buy it off eBay? Is it worth 8 to 10 bucks? I have a feeling I'd really like this.

Brooker T Buckingham, Sunday, 23 October 2011 20:19 (seven years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

Awesome! I wish I had the ambition to try to get both of her records reissued. Hopefully someone who does will read your article!

cwkiii, Thursday, 6 November 2014 18:13 (four years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

Karen Alexander – Voyager (Asylum – 1978)

Chi (pronounced “shy”) Coltrane was popular with teenage girls in the 70's. When she wasn't wailing up a storm in a post-Yvonne Elliman-as-Mary-Magdalene style, she was sobbing out epic weepers that brought many a tear to the collective eye of Carole King's denim army. Chi was model pretty and had long blonde hair to die for. People don't listen to her much anymore. You can find her albums for a buck! But at least she has some measure of immortality via her smash hit “Thunder and Lightning”. Thousands of other singer/songwriters of that era got the label deal of their dreams and searched for the key that turned Melanie Safka's roller skates into gold (and Chi's clouds into sunshine), but, alas, they never found it.
Karen Alexander is one of those thousands. Two albums on David Geffen's Asylum Records, one in 1975 and one in 1978, and then she was gone for good. Both albums sank like a stone. Karen's portrait on the cover of her debut, Isn't It Always Love, is Laura Ingalls Wilder as the squarest Breck girl in the world and seems scientifically formulated to stop people from buying the record. The album itself is marred by era-appropriate too-cute “jazzy” ragtime-ish quasi-minstrelsy ditties (and in the case of a faux-Caribbean song – sadly ubiquitous in the 70's - actual cringe-worthy island patois.) Unfortunately, half the album is wonderful! Karen's original ballads and vocal prowess are fully-formed and a vision of her future magnum opus, Voyager.
For '78's Voyager, the mad scientists at Asylum devised a cover even MORE generic and anonymous than Karen's debut. No offense to Karen. Her face is fine. But it's one of the worst covers for a great album ever designed. Within that cover is, simply put, a highly personal work of art that very few people have ever heard., the popular online site that sells gazillions of vinyl records every year, has NEVER sold a copy of this album.
There is some of the jazzamataz of the debut on her second effort, but it's toned down and the L.A. session hands make it work in a late-70's fern bar way. However, it’s on the intricate, deep, and dark undertow pop of songs like “Believe In Me” and “You're My Sailor” where she really shines. Every song is about love and what lurks beneath that glittering sea of love. Karen's voice is by turns rich, girlish, conversational, and profound. A voice with the weight that being burned and burning brightly for someone brings. A one-time studio back-up singer (for dollar bin faves Wendy Waldman and Maria Muldaur among others) Karen repeats the trick of her debut by multi-tracking herself until there is a bird-like chorus of Karens to support her amazing harmonic creations. The set-pieces like “Bermuda Triangle” are vast and twist and turn but are never melodramatic. You sink into them. There are also songs like “Babes In The Woods” that are just sad perfection, vocally and artistically. You have to let yourself go when listening to this album and alone is the best place to be. In your bedroom. Staring at the ceiling. Do teenagers still do that? There is so much long-lasting beauty on Voyager and it didn't last a minute in the real world. There is also nothing obvious on the album either. Dozens of listens don't turn it into comfort food. Her longing is addictive and her creativity is inspirational. If this album never finds a wider audience (It's no rare psych folk monster for Linda Perhacs fans to feast on) the only hope is that SHE finds comfort in having made something wonderful. Wherever she is. So, there's really no need for a reissue. You can buy an old copy for nothing. It's waiting to sweep you off your feet.

scott seward, Thursday, 8 February 2018 19:49 (one year ago) Permalink

posting my review from that pitchfork magazine so that ilm is the only place on earth you can go to read a review of voyager.

discogs has sold

scott seward, Thursday, 8 February 2018 19:50 (one year ago) Permalink

discogs has sold FIVE copies since my review was printed. i take all credit.

scott seward, Thursday, 8 February 2018 19:51 (one year ago) Permalink

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