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CD REVIEW: Karisa Nowak - You Don't Know Jack
By Chip Withrow - 02/24/2006 - 12:49 AM EST

Artist: Karisa Nowak
Album: You Don't Know Jack
CD Review: I’ve been listening to this CD for a few weeks now, really digging it but finding it hard to write about. It has a sparse, folksy feel, yet the songs lean more toward well-crafted pop.

I think I’ve finally figured it out: Karisa Nowak's You Don't Know Jack is such a find because these gems are so pure. The vocal/acoustic guitar treatment makes you feel like you’re privy to an in-your-living-room performance of hits in the making. “I Will Love You,” with its simple yet powerful chorus, is one such potential chartmaker.

Nowak has a sexy, knowing voice that conveys an emotional range from bravado to heartbreak. Standouts “Tomorrow” and “Don’t Think of Her” showcase all those nuances in one song.

Not only can she sing - she powerfully bares her soul against an unadorned acoustic background. Nowak also wrote or cowrote all eight tracks on this album – “Don’t Think of Her” is one example of her prowess at writing a direct, interesting lyric.

I’d love to hear these songs with a full production. “Hideaway,” for example, would be killer with electric piano and strings. “Hard Times and Heartaches” is a yearning soul burner – I can imagine a mournful sax in just the right places.

But guitarist Joe Spann's accompaniment works just fine. His runs on “Cup of Caffeine” are particularly nifty. He also co-wrote four songs.

I’ve been watching American Idol again, and Karisa Nowak’s You Don’t Know Jack is a refreshing respite from the Idol contestants’ sameness. For artists like her, who possess substance and popular appeal, TV should have a singer-songwriter competition.

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