Karen Littman – The Dream of Life: Set Yourself Free
Karen Littman’s first album, a sixteen song collection entitled The Dream of Life: Set Yourself Free, is a musical creative outburst quite unlike anything else you’ll encounter in the mainstream or indie music scenes of 2017. Littman waited until much later in life, for a variety of reasons, before recording her first album, but she’s been writing songs since her childhood and the development of years pursuing her art shows in every track on this release. There’s never any sense of her exhausting herself creatively despite the lengthy running time of the album. The melodic strengths of The Dream of Life: Set Yourself Free are considerable and she has a facility with the lyrical content that demonstrates a distinctly literary flair while still maintaining a conversational accessibility. It’s an album that’s literally been a lifetime in the making and packs all the expected punch of such a work.
“Where Is Home?” makes no bones about Littman’s vulnerability from the start. The depth of human emotion in this track is given a warm, glowing sheen thanks to the wonderful melody that powers the heart of the song. Littman syncs it up well with an equally beautiful vocal melody that shows, despite this being her first album, the years she’s spent working at songwriting makes her a talented figure on the indie scene when it comes to the marriage of melody and instrument. “Lost and Found of Life” brings more of her vulnerability center stage and shows her off to be a songwriter with extraordinary empathetic values. She understands life’s heartaches in songs like this, but that comprehension never leaves her completely undone. There’s a hypnotic quality to many of the passages in “Who Am I?” alternating with deceptively simple phrasing from the same instruments we’ve heard thus far like piano and guitar. There’s a little echo applied to Littman’s voice, unlike the largely unadorned treatment her voice receives during the earlier songs, but it never compromises the quality.
“Love Comes From Within” is one of the album’s more spartan and stately ballads. These moments invariably provide the more impressively sensitive vocal moments on The Dream of Life and this track boasts one of the better performances. The artful turn she takes with the song “Perfection is Not My Friend” is much sprightlier than you’d expect and the short running time maximizes its impact – as well as helping it stand out. Another of the briefer songs on the album, “Time Is In My Mind”, has a cinematic musical arrangement that gives Littman dramatic responses to her voice rather than following some frozen and lifeless arrangement. It settles into a more predictable pattern for the choruses and a major key to its success, surely, must be the well timed inclusion of organ to the album’s sound. The final two songs on the album, its title track and the closer “Do You Remember?”, hit a satisfying contrast for the last moment on the release. The former is the best ballad on the album, an expansive piano driven singer/songwriter gem, while the ending of the release has a much more commercial, slightly cluttered approach. The Dream of Life: Set Yourself Free delivers a clear message to its audience and it’s obvious at even first hearing Littman entered the studio certain of what she wanted to accomplish. She’s succeeded and then some.