Karen Kay Whitley is a lesbian singer-songwriter and recording artist based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wounds of My Own Making is her debut solo release and consists of several decades worth of her original material brought together for the first time to tell a story of her evolving understanding of the nature of love, of herself, and of the destructive tendencies with which the best of us can often unwittingly sabotage ourselves... over and over and over again. The tracks are alternately melancholy and upbeat and depict an honest woman trying every which way to get things right -- and she does, in the end.
The bright, cheerful chords that open the album's first track "What Did Love Do to You?" set against its wronged-and-tricked-one-too-many-times lyrics communicate the theme for the album as a whole. This catchy and overall lighthearted tune brilliantly conveys the experience of one who has tallied all the rational reasons against love and who, nevertheless, can't seem to get enough.
"Wake Up" speaks of a different and, in some ways, deeper shade of disillusionment. This track takes up not just the artist's head-shaking ambivalence towards love, but, further, her regrets about having bought into an entire way of life that she finally realizes (or perhaps knew all along) was in opposition to her dreams.
"Without a Sound" is without a doubt the most musically soul-stirring track from Wounds of My Own Making. Its opening lines "How did we get where we are? We took so many turns I can't remember. I wanted to be somebody, but I don't know who it was. How did we get where we are?" echo some of the issues that the artist takes up elsewhere in the album, but the raw, husky, incredibly sexy, incredibly sad quality of the vocals on "Without a Sound" is unmatched. A song about contemplating suicide when faced with the increasingly unavoidable task of having to end a long-dead relationship that she's somehow still in, "Without a Sound" is one of the artist's most heartfelt. Anyone who isn't moved by the lyrical-musical combo found in the passage "Is love just a story they told us? I need to know, before I go. I hope love is gonna save us. I hope love can really save us" must have a heart of stone.
"Waiting for Repair" is the artist's most recently composed song from this album (written around 2011) and is marked by subtle departures from and improvements upon her usual lyrical and musical style, felt in other places of Wounds of My Own Making. A multifaceted and more complex song, "Waiting for Repair" explores the limits on how much one person can do to heal another's wounds - and one's own, while seeking comfort in soaring considerations of nature and spirituality.
"A Little Bit of Luck" is a really fun tune that you just have to experience for yourself. It provides a welcome change of pace after the album's first few songs, and will really make you smile, get your toes tapping, and start you looking for your next two-step partner. "Stopped at the bar for a couple of drinks, saw you smilin' over at me. You really don't look my type. You don't look like the kind I like. But all it took was just one look, and baby, baby I was hooked..." You know that's going somewhere good.
"I'm Leaving Town" feels like a transition due to its placement in the middle of the album. In some ways, it is, moving the singer and her narrative towards a better place, but in some ways the story "Leaving Town" tells is just another false start. Perhaps for precisely this reason, the feelings it evokes should be very identifiable to most -- the feelings of imagining that if only you could "get away" everything could be different and yet knowing in your heart of hearts that a change of scenery is not the only or the most important kind of change you need.
"Where Did I Go Wrong?" is probably the the track that is most fun to rock-out to from this record, and you will find yourself with it pleasantly stuck in your head for days after the fact. As with "What Did Love Do to You?", the music is peppy (even more so!) while the lyrics lament the frustrations and failures of love. Best line to belt out before the mirror after a break-up? "I don't know why - why did I try? Why did I let you let me down when YOU'RE NEVER GONNA FIND - ANYONE LIKE ME - anyone to love?" Try it; you'll like it!
"The First Dance" is the song you want when you are crying at the cowboy bar - at least, that's definitely the atmosphere that the tone of Whitley's vocals smilingly evokes. In seriousness, "The First Dance" touches precisely on a sensation not captured so well or so intensely by much other music. It pinpoints the feeling of knowing for certain that something is over, knowing that you will keep grieving it for some time ("I won't love you any less, I'll just hurt a little more..."), and yet knowing that you will STILL, in spite of everything, keep looking. The most beautiful melodic passage of the song accompanies the lyrics: "Well, I wrote my wedding vows, but somehow now, it seems a little strange that I should think of that day. Because there's no one to hear the words I would say. The promise to love you that won't ever fade..."
"What Proof Do You Need?" is a different and more explicitly spiritual or religious kind of song than most of the others on the album and could be played in a variety of different settings. It sounds a little bit like a rockin' contemporary youth group tune -- and very well could be put to use as such. But it's also a fitting addition to Wounds of My Own Making. Whether the spirituality the artist focuses on here is a step along her narrative journey towards her liberation or just another symptom of her tortured character's stalling out along the way is for the listener to decide.
"Wounds of My Own Making", the album's title track, is where the artist really gets to the bottom line and decides she's got to hash some things out with herself... because she's got plenty of sad songs and sure don't need any more. This is not a song about physical self-harm so much as it is about the more general ways that people walk around with wounds that they may think have been inflicted by others when the truth is that they've done it to themselves. The lyrics of the bridge: "I've just gotta take one step in the right direction. Leave behind the aftermath of my own destruction. There's no time to waste; this step is worth taking. There's no one left to blame for the wounds -- of my own making." and "Living out forgotten dreams left rotting in my soul, finding compassion for the one I hate the most, was the hardest part of loving the enemy in me was the only truth that ever set me free - from the wounds, from the wounds, of my own making" mark the first REAL moment of transformation on the album, and it's no accident that what comes after, in the last track, "Finally Found" is far, far sweeter, better, and more fulfilling than anything that's gone before.
"Finally Found" is a beautiful track that marks the end of this segment of the artist's journey, and many hopes that it will fuel your own cathartic, blissful, stable love as well. Her words say it best: "I can't believe I finally found, someone who believes in me. I know you'll always stand by my side. You make my world alright." and prove that happy endings really can come true. That is, if you are willing to take the age-old assumptions, excuses, and patterns of behavior off "repeat", buckle down, and do the hard work of figuring out who you really are, what you really want, and what you really have to keep an eye out for, to keep from getting in the way.
A bonus for lesbian listeners: Although this is assuredly an album with universal appeal and applicability, one of the most refreshing things about it is that Whitley never hides the fact that she is a woman singing to and about the women she has loved. These are not generic, run-of-the-mill love songs, nor does the artist position herself lyrically as a man or as a wooer of one. In putting out real, true-to-life songs about lesbian love, Karen Kay Whitley and Wounds of My Own Making contribute to the filling of a crucial gap in the music world -- one that will continue to narrow with the artist's planned release of a collaborative album entitled Lesbian Love Songs later in 2013.
Recordings and production by the artist's wife, Rebekah Whitley, capture a true, human, intimate sound that speaks to lovers and lovers-of-love everywhere - city folk, country folk, gay folk, straight folk, young folk, old folk, and everyone in between.
(Review courtesy of Three-Thirteen Publishing)