Karen & the Sorrows begin a new era with the release of the troupe’s third album, Guaranteed Broken Heart, whose title track is premiering exclusively below.
After 2017’s The Narrow Place, the self-proclaimed “queer country” band lost founding members Elana Redfield (frontwoman Karen Pittelman’s ex) and Tami Johnson. The split was relatively amicable.
“We’re all still friends and hang out,” Pittelman tells Billboard. However, it still made for a challenging path moving forward. “It’s always scary starting over again. There’s always so much comfort when you have your old bandmates who you’re used to playing together with them, so I miss that.
“But it gave me a chance to make things sound the way I think maybe they always have in my head. And everything felt really new. I liked working with new people — that was inspiring and exciting.”
Pittleman and her current cast of Sorrows — including guest all-stars from Brooklyn’s bluegrass and old-time music scenes like Rima Fand on fiddle, Ross Martin on guitar, and Cole Quest Rotante on dobro — made Guaranteed Broken Heart with her at the production helm. The models, she says, were Neil Young albums such as Harvest and On the Beach, with additional inspiration from George Jones‘ “Choices.”
“I had this weird vision about 90s country if it was through the filter of Neil Young — which is not unfair to imagine ’cause he’s done so many different things,” Pittelman explains. “That was guiding me forward. It felt like a lot of these songs wanted to have a string band on them, which was completely new to me. I’m usually much more electric.”
“Guaranteed Broken Heart,” which starts the album, is a “two-stepping song,” according to Pittelman. “I worked on that one really hard to make sure the beat was right.” The title, of course, does not exactly convey happiness, but Pittelman hopes that there’s a bit of light in that darkness.
“One of the things I love most about country music is trying to find those moments in your life that are totally sad or heartbroken, but you find this moment of humor in it, just a twist or turn of a phrase with a bit of wit in it,” she explains. “You can take this moment in your life that’s painful but find a witty way to sing about it. It’s devastating but smart at the same time.”
Karen & the Sorrows will celebrate Guaranteed Broken Heart with a release day show on Oct. 18 at Brooklyn’s Littlefield. The group has a southeastern U.S. tour booked for November, with more, Pittelman hopes, on the horizon. She’s also hoping that with a third album she’ll be viewed more as country than queer country.
“I make music for the music’s sake, and I think everybody wants their art to be seen and heard for what it is,” Pittelman says. “Our political identity and what’s happening around us not only shapes what we make, but also shapes our opportunities to make it. I’m always invested in having that conversation about what is the role of identity in country music and what does it mean to be a queer person in country music. The root is always loving the music itself, and I think country music demands that we tell the truth about our lives — and that’s what I’m trying to do with it.”