Karen Littman – The Dream of Life: Set Yourself Free
Karen Littman’s debut album is the long delayed result of a lifetime’s passion. She has been writing songs since early in life and that long apprenticeship informs every note and word of the sixteen songs included on her album The Dream of Life: Set Yourself Free. Her songs are musical documents that, since her earliest efforts, have always sought to communicate with listeners and share the struggles of living in a way that establishes community and common bonds. The San Francisco Bay area resident works alongside some top flight collaborators like engineer and producer Joel Jaffe to realize her artistic vision for this release and its combination of poetically inspired lyrical musings, melodic skills, and vocal talents comes together to offer listeners a hopeful and ultimately life-affirming collection. Sixteen songs may seem a little excessive, but it gives listeners a chance to explore the full breadth of her musical skills.
The opening number “Where Is Home” has a spartan musical arrangement primarily defined by sparkling piano and synthesizer lines, but it picks up at key points bringing authoritative drumming, fiery guitars, and impassioned vocals into play. The disparate elements coming together on this track never miss and sound utterly seamless. “Lost and Found of Life” might seem like a weighty title, but it’s a much less cluttered number than the opener and forsakes the rock posturing for a much more intimate recording. Piano means a lot to the songwriting on this album and few tracks are more affected by its presence than this one. Littman’s vocal is nearly counterpointed by some occasional strings and the lyrical bent to her piano playing. The hypnotic quality to the piano playing opening “Who Am I” is a feeling reinforced by the hazy, spectral quality Littman’s voice takes on thanks to post production effects. The ebb and flow of the song’s tempo seems natural for its dramatic lyric and nearly crystalline vocal performance. The crowning touch for the vocals is the inclusion of some ethereal, but otherwise unobtrusive, backing vocals.
“Choosing Love or Fear” has a strong guitar presence, but this is a straight up R&B number in the hands of Littman and she offers up a stunningly soulful vocal. Her lyrical acumen is an obvious strength from the beginning and this song certainly excels in that department as well. Her penchant for memorable song title continues with “Perfection Is Not My Friend” and opens with quite a memorable first line. The stylish manner of this track makes its brief length all the more satisfying and there’s, perhaps, never a heavy handed quality to the lyric thanks to her playful treatment of the subject matter. It’s one of the album’s shortest tracks, but meaningful. The album’s nominal title cut “The Dream of Life” maintains a straight line of attack for its nearly three minute running time and gives itself over to the pop/classical influences making their way into Littman’s artistic arsenal. This is a real stunner that sounds like decades plus worth of creativity emerging in one convincing blast, but there’s no signal that she’s creatively spent herself with this effort. We can only hope that Karen Littman follows up this near perfect effort with something new in the future as there is, literally, no one writing and recording songs today quite like hers.