"You say you never wait for heaven/I hear your voice, I know it's true," sings Karen Savoca during Sunday in Nandua's "At Your Feet"--and it's a terrifically fitting line for listeners, given that Savoca's voice may indeed be one of the most perfect manifestations of heaven any of us are ever likely to experience in this humble earthly domain.
Sunday in Nandua finds the Central New York-based singer deploying her earthly-angelic voice on eleven self-penned tunes of a quality normally found only on greatest hits compilations. These precious works of creative art are brought to life musically by a fine trio line-up featuring Savoca (percussion, piano, etc...), Peter Heitzman (guitar, bass) and Tom "T-Bone" Wolk (bass, octave mandolin); special kudos are due to Wolk for supplementing the long-standing Savoca-Heitzman partnership with subtlety and grace, thereby never diffusing the magic of the duo's live performance style. That's the mark of a true musical professional.
Heitzman shines throughout Nandua's run as well, using his innovative playing technique (wherein bass, guitar and percussion all emerge seamlessly from one instrument) to craft the folk- funk-jazz frameworks upon which Savoca erects her towering vocal constructs. Taken as a whole, the final results are impressive in the extreme: Sunday in Nandua is one of the most confident, innovative and just plain enjoyable discs of this (and maybe any other) year. I don't expect anything better when I finally decide to give heaven a go.
--J. Eric Smith
These symbiotic artists translate easily to recording, and this album has all the easygoing in-the-groove soul folk vibe of their live shows. It also allows them to explore quieter areas than they can at a folk festival, and the subtle shades of Karen's drummingand Pete's guitar work are clearer here. The mix puts Karen's alluring alto right up front, and she brings her listeners into her stories with its warm rich tones. The production by the duo and T-Bone Wolk is sparse but ample - nothing missing, nothing unecessary added. This is a perfect album for cold winter mornings and warm summer evenings - oatmeal or lemonade for the soul, whichever the season.
-- Steve Bornstein
Every once in a while a music reviewer hears a new voice so stunning that it makes the last half-dozen-or-so voices he called "stunning" seem something definitely less so. That's what happened when I was recently introduced to the talents of central New York State singer Karen Savoca.
It happened when I was listening to the tribute album "What's That I Hear: The Songs Of Phil Ochs" (on the Sliced Bread label). This two-CD set, a superb collection of songs written by the late folk singer/songwriter, is loaded with surprisingly vibrant performances by such veterans as Eric Andersen, Dave Van Ronk and Peter Yarrow. However, the set's most impressive rendition comes from one of the younger people invited to take part in the tribute--Savoca's version of "No More Songs," which ends the second disc.
"No More Songs" is a small masterpiece--arguably the finest of Ochs' more meloncholy tunes--so it would sound fine done by any vocalist who's at least fairly capable. But delivered by Savoca's uniquely exquisite voice, the song took on an entrancingly sensitive feeling that was simply spinetingling.
I'd never heard her before, but I certainly wanted to hear more--and learn more about her, especially since the Ochs set's booklet she and her longtime partner, guitarist Pete Heitzman, had, as a duo, won Musician Magazine's Best Unsigned Band Contest for 1995.
So I sought out Savoca's Sunday In Nandua, which was released four months ago on the Alcove label. (It had been preceded by an eight song release On The River Road.) All 11 tracks were written soley by Savoca, and while she isn't astounding as a composer the way she is as a singer, she's very capable in this area too.
Savoca, who also plays conga and other percussion, has been working with Heitzman since the mid-'80s. They formed the central New York based The Mind's Eye but have been performing as a duo for the last several years. Their music is hard to label, incorporating folk, pop, country, soul and even funk elements (the latter especially showing up in Heitzman's fluid and subtly creative guitar playing.). The Material on Sunday In Nandua ranges from "Nowhere To Go" a lovely, mystical ballad and "That's How I Remember," a gentle tribute to someone who's been lost, to the snappy, accusative "You Just Don't Get It" and the funky rocker "Here They Come," a prickly (and possibly tongue-in-cheek paranoid) litany of concerns, from the environmental to the personal.
Aided by bassist and co-producer T-Bone Wolk (from the "Saturday Night Live Band"), Heitzman and Savoca lay down a continually solid and supple backing for her voice. But it's that voice, which flows from pure tones to a stinging rasp, that delivers the knockout punch. All she needs to become a fast-rising star is for some big label to swoop her up. And anyone would be a fool not to.
-- Terry Atkinson
Listening to her new album, Sunday in Nandua (particularly a song called You Just Don't Get It) gives you the feeling Karen Savoca could become a big pop star - if only she'd fill her albums with performances by studio technicians and make a video of herself bobbing around in a bathtub like Fiona Apple.
But that would ruin the charm of this Central New York based singer/percussionist. Savoca's voice is an enchanting blend of whispered melancholies and edgy sass, particularly when she's singing lyrics such as "You're like a dog marking a tree, well move along, you won't put your mark on me." On Here They Come, she goes from a Stevie Nicks-like cooing to a hoarse wail. Partner Pete Heitzman adds all kinds of unique funk-and-jazz guitar effects to the package.
--Rob Cullivan, City Newspaper, Rochester