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  • Ed Schmieder

Karen Bella: Whiskey and Honey

“Barbara Streisand. Hands down, she is such a major influence of mine as a singer.” Now that’s an artist I don’t typically hear cited among Long Island Stage performers. But for Karen Bella, Streisand’s “confidence, phrasing, and emotional passion” was foundational. Her mom introduced her to “Funny Girl,” and it changed her life: certainly, its trajectory. However, when you hear Karen’s music, Streisand’s DNA isn’t readily apparent. John Mayer, another influence, is right up front. “He’s got this soulful blues vibe both vocally and instrumentally.” Elton John and Billy Joel loom large too.

The distillation of these stylistic elements is best heard on two of her recent singles and videos: “Jack Honey,” and “Indio.” The first starts out a sweetly country folk and then quickly veers into a rocking Nashville tune about the flavored whiskey and a lusty wish. In the video the singer rides off on a motorcycle, arms around her honey. “Indio,” on the other hand, is a pure pop celebration of the magic of music festivals. Indio is the nearby city of the annual Coachella Festival held in the Colorado Desert in California. Karen’s not been there yet, but her imagination and words capture the ecstatic vibes of it and other festivals. It’s a little hallucinatory with synesthetic image and a nod toward exotic intoxicants.

With these two very different songs in mind, I asked how her lyrics and music came to her. “Ninety percent of the time, I get chords first, and then develop the chords over them. Usually, the lyrics come along with the melody, and sometimes the lyrics change the melody. It’s real exciting to play with melodic phrases. It’s rare that a lyric comes first for me, but sometimes, one word triggers a concept of a song. I used to get song melodies from dreams when I started writing too.”

Another song I’d recommend is a whimsical anomaly in her catalog “Little Bella.” It is about her dog Bella. She rightly noted, “A love song doesn’t have to be about a lover. It can also be about the bond between you and your pup…. This song is for everyone.”

Another dimension to Karen’s music career is the list of professional endorsements you’ll see when you open her website. They attest to her talent and career savviness. She is endorsed by both Fishman amps and Elixir Strings, and is both a Yamaha brand ambassador, and Sam Ash Spotlight Artist.

Karen could offer a course on the benefits of engaging with instrument and equipment manufacturers: meeting sales reps and tagging them on social media and connecting with them through shared videos. One early lesson she learned was to keep her eyes peeled for sponsored ads by manufacturers on places like Facebook. She has performed for Yamaha at National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), and will be there again in Anaheim, California this year.

A Huntington resident, you can catch her often at the Bar Petite downtown.

She’s booked 16 gigs this March, but exclusive to The Suffolk performance she will be backed by a three-piece band. So, this show will be the one to hear her as she sounds on her recordings. A treat for us as she closes out Thursday’s performances.

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