Karen Wolfe sings tough but supple southern soul-blues | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Karen Wolfe sings tough but supple southern soul-blues

This Memphis vocalist has adopted the persona of a vintage blueswoman—feisty, independent, and ready to call out no-good men.


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  • Courtesy of Sweet Success Records
  • Karen Wolfe

Memphis-based vocalist Karen Wolfe got her start in the mid-90s singing backup for her sister-in-law, the late Denise LaSalle. Encouraged by LaSalle to go out on her own, she released her debut album, First Time Out (B&J), in 2006; it pairs her sweet, supple vocals with the usual synth-heavy southern soul-blues backing—the same sound, more or less, that's characterized her studio output ever since. But from the beginning Wolfe has made it a point to recruit the finest sidemen available for her live performances, allowing her to spark her shows with an energy and sensual grace that her recordings didn't always reflect. (Canned-sounding recordings are a common problem for modern southern-soul vocalists, and probably a main reason the genre hasn't found wider acceptance among mainstream blues fans.)

Karen Wolfe
Fri 6/7, 1:45 PM, Juke Joint Stage

Wolfe's vocals have toughened over the years, and in another expression of LaSalle's ongoing influence, she's adopted a vintage blueswoman's persona—feisty and independent, and just as ready to call out no-good men ("Grown Ass Man," "Man Enough") or throw down to perfidious women ("That Bitch Ain't Me") as she is to declare her sexual autonomy ("B.O.B.," which stands for "Battery Operated Boyfriend"). Wolfe's current band includes members of Blak Ice, LaSalle's last working unit, and she appears at Blues Fest on the same stage LaSalle graced in 2017 for one of her final shows—so this set will undoubtedly be charged with bittersweet emotion.  v

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