Classic country sounds accompany a challenging personal journey.
‘Pawn Shop Queen’ is the debut album for Los Angeles-via-Wichita songwriter Katie Jo, and there is plenty to enjoy in this raw and rootsy offering. She boasts a voice that has more in common with Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells than with most contemporary artists, although her style would sit easily alongside the likes of Margo Price and Whitney Rose. The songs have a vintage country sound, featuring pedal steel, fiddle and twangy lead guitar. Indeed, this record sounds like a well-practiced band set up all together in a studio, playing songs much as they would at a live show. As a result, the feel is natural and unprocessed, and it is refreshing not to be overwhelmed by over-compressed production and autotuned vocals.
Katie Jo has already experienced some immense personal challenges in her young life, and these are detailed in some depth on the biography pages of her web site. When an artist faces challenging life circumstances, the temptation to pour a little too much of their own story into their music is not always a blessing for the listener. However, Katie Jo appears careful to channel her experiences into a more universal lyrical setting. For sure, there are lines which occasionally cut through, and the closing songs ‘Are You Coming Home Tonight?’ and ‘Little Bird’ certainly provide some of the more heartfelt moments on the record, with the latter delicately suggesting that “sticks and stones can build a better home in time…(and) even broken wings can move you a little further down the line.”
On the whole, though, the record is one where the easy roll of the music provides the primary focus. There are plenty of uptempo delights, kicked off by the hook-laden opening track and first single ‘How Soon’ (See also the earlier Americana UK review of this single release by Andrew Frolish https://americana-uk.com/video-premiere-katie-jo-how-soon ). ‘I Don’t Know Where Your Heart’s Been’, meanwhile, sounds like it could have been recorded at any time over the last sixty years, and is hugely enjoyable.
‘Pawn Shop Queen’ is the sound of the barroom rather than the stadium, and none the worse for that. Whether the back to basics approach will reap commercial dividends is less certain, but as a statement of intent, it is a very solid basis for Katie Jo to build on. It will certainly be interesting to see where her musical path leads next after this fresh and likeable opening album.