last updated January 2010

Duluth News Tribune

by John Ziegler

CD Review: Captivating New York duo creates perfect chemistry

She has a voice that could raise the envy of a chorus of angels. His supple guitar accompaniment nestles around her voice until the alchemy is like a priceless vase you can’t take your attention from.

She is Karen Savoca. He is Pete Heitzman. They are partners on and off stage and simply one of the best duos that venture out from their mid-state New York home and studio to bring their gorgeous art to your town.

“In the Dirt,” the newest disc on their own Alcove Record label, contains a mix of cleverly written and entrancingly beautiful songs that have a beguiling way of changing and reconfiguring themselves, almost like an aural kaleidoscope. Their friend, T-Bone Wolk, is a special guest, and the former “Saturday Night Live” bassist adds impeccable touches throughout the project.

“Give Me A Kiss” has a funky little rhythm that is part calypso/part juju beat with punchy, staccato guitar and swirling background vocals (Savoca multi-tracking herself) and also features a snaky guitar ride that eggs the tune on.

On “The Year,” Savoca uses a technique reminiscent of Shawn Colvin, where she lets the words dribble out so slowly that it builds tension as you finish phrases in your head before she does. It’s tantalizing and rivets your attention to the lyrics about dreams, regrets and lost opportunities.

“16 Windmills” has that saucy, percolating Maria Muldaur-like groove that blends a bluesy New Orleans feel with text about slowing down and stopping to smell the roses.

“What Is Free” is a disc highlight and one of those tunes that welds lyric/melody/harmony into a composite so perfect that you can’t imagine a single note being anywhere but where it resides. Listening to this tune is like drinking in a painting whose creator’s intent is a mystery. I’m not positive what the exact meaning of the song is, and I’ve listened to it a dozen times, but it still stands the hair on the back of my neck at attention every time. I think it has to do with how infinitesimal we really are in the big scheme of things.

The synchronicity this duo creates is stunning. Savoca has one of those voices that can soar like an eagle. It glides upward and then dives with the slightest turn of phrase. A bit of rasp to her crystalline sound is ravishingly beautiful and ultra-expressive.

Heitzman again and again — through taste and the ability to know what to play and what not to play — adds the instrumental touch that fills out the canvas completely.

Talent, skill, musicality, empathy … this duo has it all, as “In the Dirt” shows. This disc, and their Superior show Saturday night, are not to be missed.

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Performing Songwriter

by Mare Wakefield

Karen Savoca ~ In the Dirt

Featured Download: “Give Me a Kiss” MP3

Part angel, part Earth mama, Karen Savoca possesses a voice capable of sounding ethereal and tough all in the same moment. It’s an appropriate mix for songs of transcending worldly troubles (“Just Let Go”) or getting back to basics (“In the Dirt”).

Savoca is an accomplished percussionist, and her creative drumming techniques establish a groove that provides a solid foundation for lyrics like “What do the birds think when they look down at us / Tugging and pulling and kicking up dust.” Acoustic and electric guitar join with organ, mandolin, bass, banjo, piano and accordion to flesh out the arrangements on Savoca’s bone-and-sinew strong compositions. The New York-–based artist is in fine form on In the Dirt, and the album is a must-have for fans and a great introduction for the uninitiated.

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Dirty Linen

Karen Savoca ~ In the Dirt [Alcove Records AL31506 (2006)]

Sparkling arrangements and thoughtful vocals characterize Karen Savoca's seventh CD, which reveals that time is much on her mind."Just Let Go" gets its tension from octave mandolin, shifting like fever-bound consciousness, but also from Savoca's plainspoken catalog of images: "Here is the spring that feeds the lake/Here is the house built by my brother/and this the path that we did take/The day that you became my lover." All that she values has slipped away, but Savoca's protagonist looks back in wonder rather than self pity. "The Year" echoes a time of depression, perhaps a result of "Just Let Go"'s losses, its melancholy balanced against the resolute pace of a mandolin. In "Don't Look At The Clock" she wants time to stop; "Mother's Arms" simmers with recognotion that men playijng at war can never go back to the simple days of "playing soldier in the sand." As for the lively charmer, "Give Me A Kiss"... it's got the joyous abandon of someone with all the time in the world.

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