Karen Mal sings. From raw sensuality to shimmering bell-like clarity, her voice is both tender and powerful, and as effortless as a waterfall. There’s a river that flows between Karen and her audience. It’s about love. The possibility and the unbearable beauty of it. Elusive and abundant at the same time.
Based in Austin, TX, Karen has created a name for herself as a captivating singer, instrumentalist and songwriter. Ranging from charming to seductive, impressionistic to philosophical, her songs have brought her nationwide acclaim. She’s won top awards from the Wildflower Arts and Music Festival in Texas, the Tucson Folk Festival and the Portland Songwriters Association and has also been a three-time New Folk Finalist at Kerrville, emerging artist at Falcon Ridge and a finalist at the Sisters Folk Festival.
Karen has released three CDs on Waterbug records, starting with Mercury’s Wings in 2002. “Karen Mal is riding a musical high,” raved Sing Out! Magazine about her debut. The title song is a beautiful tribute to her friend, mentor and collaborator, the late Fred Alley. Dark Eyed Sailor was next, a collection
of traditional Celtic songs. The title cut won the Celtic Radio Music Award for best song in 2006. Her newest release, The Space Between, came out in late 2007 and has been getting extensive airplay, reaching #6 on the Folk DJ Chart in November.
When she’s not singing her own songs she’s in high demand as a mandolinist and bassist appearing with Ronny Cox, Buddy Mondlock, Jonathan Byrd, Sam Baker, Ken Gaines!and many, many others at Kerrville, Woodyfest and stages across the country. Karen has worn so many hats for so long, that on
stage, there’s nothing she can’t do. You don’t just get hot licks; you get melody, counterpoint, and a sense of rhythm that eases the whole sound deeper into the groove. Just ask Celtic superstars Cherish the Ladies who invited Karen to tour with them in 2005.
She grew up in small-town Plainville, CT, which is exactly what it sounds like, rows of little houses and quiet people with cats and televisions, She found she was best off creating her own entertainment. “I always had music in my bones. I don't remember a time when I couldn't read music, or sing harmony,”
says Karen. Her mother wrote in the scrapbook she kept, “8 months old - Karen sings herself to sleep in her crib.” It wasn’t until she was ten years old that she found her grandpa’s long-forgotten old Gibson guitarin the attic. Karen was off and running.
After high school, she earned a degree in Music and Theater from Long Island University and moved to New York City -- a hundred miles and a galaxy away from Plainville. She started hitting the auditions, winning parts in Shakespeare plays, children’s theater and regional theater productions. Then came an audition that changed Karen’s life. These guys were in jeans and flannel shirts instead of New York theater chic and the audition was as much about her musical creativity as it was about her acting chops. Karen was
immediately offered a contract with the American Folklore Theater in Door County, Wisconsin, a company producing original plays and musicals that tell the American story through the eyes and experiences of the immigrants, pioneers, native peoples and just plain everyday folks of Wisconsin. With a double role as actor and musician, Karen began a love affair with folk music
AFT was a perfect fit for Karen too, and that first season’s contract extended to seven more. While there she developed her mandolin skills and was called on to play a raft of other instruments including, fiddle, clarinet, psaltery, bass, flute, bodhran and of course guitar. She also made her first creative forays into writing songs and became the resident composer/musical director for Door Shakespeare in Baileys Harbor, WI, a title she still carries. Most importantly, this new creative challenge gave her a sense of musical direction. The girl who could sing and play in just about any style realized that she could write, too.
In late 1999 she made the move to Austin, leaving theater behind to play music full-time. She quickly became a favorite among the pickers and writers of a city that’s become the hub of the American roots music scene. And now the rest of the country has discovered her too.