Penny For My Heartbreak
Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel Out September 8, 2023
“[her] high country vocals are irresistible” – AMERICANA HIGHWAYS
Katie Curley’s bitter-sweet voice spills all over her solo debut album, Penny For My Heartbreak, a collection of honk-tonk country songs that cover topics from love and marriage to social commentary to lamenting over time spent during the Covid Pandemic. This marks the second time she has worked with noted Americana producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Sarah Borges, Bottle Rockets, and Dan Baird), along with a great core group of musicians, and the result is a pure country sound a la Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, and Kelly Willis.
“This album started with a document titled ‘New Lyrics (Yay!),’ which I first opened while making my last record with Bourbon Express,” recalls Katie. “That was 2018. So much has happened since then, in the world and in my life.” The songs on the album range from insightful to humorous to painful; Katie’s voice tells the stories in songs like “Beauty Queen,” “Starter Marriage,” Take Your Pro-Life and Let It Die,” and “Last Night’s Tequila.” From rockers to ballads to country waltzes, Katie’s voice glides over the instrumentation like water filling in the gaps with emotion.
“I remember during the pandemic isolation period, walking into our bedroom, in the corner of which we’d constructed a tiki bar with a giant beach umbrella, a couch, and a smart speaker I’d bought specifically to play ocean wave sounds and Brendan was sitting on the edge of the bed with a fingerful of clear liquid inside a rocks glass. It was 11 o’clock in the morning, so I wasn’t sure what was in the glass. ‘What are you drinking?’ I asked. ‘Last Night’s Tequila’ was his response. Yes! I think we finished the song more or less that day.”
“Rooted as deep as possible in this country’s musical history and archives” – NO DEPRESSION
Now, with her new batch of songs, she and Ambel began to list whom they wanted to be in the core studio band. They recorded the basic tracks over two sessions with Mario Viele at Cowboy Technical Services in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY. Those handpicked members include drummer Konrad Meissner (The Silos, Graham Parker), bassists Dan B Green (Jack Grace, Mike Viola) and Dave Speranza (Honeyfingers, Sara Jarosz), and lead guitarist Brendan Curley, whose influences (from Chuck Berry to Kenny Vaughan to Roger McGuinn) echo throughout.
Other players include Charles Giordano of the E Street Band on piano, Jonny Lam of The Honeyfingers on pedal steel, Bourbon Express alum Sarah Kinsey and noted songwriter Joe Flood on harmony vocals. “It was a great honor to have Charles Giordano on the record,” says Katie. Giordano’s playing shines, particularly on “Take Your Pro-Life And Let It Die” and “First Tattoo.” Ambel lent his guitar talents to several songs and is featured on “Losing Hand” with a great solo.
As they worked in the studio, timing was everything, Katie explains as she continues to praise the musicians who gave their talents to the project. “We were really lucky to have Jonny Lam because he lives in Hawaii now, but our dates lined up,” says Katie. “It was good to see him and even better to hear what he added to the songs!” Additional vocals include Girls on Grass triple threat Barbara Endes, who sang harmonies on “Losing Hand,” and Mary Lee Kortes of the critically acclaimed Mary Lee’s Corvette, who sang harmonies on one of Katie’s favorite songs, “Lucky in Love.” “She matched every little nuance of my voice without ever having sung with me before,” says Katie, “while adding a little sparkle of her own.”
“I was very excited to hear Katie Curley’s latest and very personal songs. I’m even more excited now that people will get to hear the recordings we crafted together. –Eric “Roscoe” Ambel
Growing up in rural western Washington State, Katie was first drawn to music at the non-denominational church her family attended, where, as an enthusiastic youngster, she confesses, she was the congregation’s loudest and most out-of-tune singer. Her mother signed her up for some voice lessons, and Katie’s vocal confidence grew.
At eighteen, she left home on a scholarship to study classical harp at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. By her early 20s, she moved to New York City to stay afloat as a songwriter and performer. It wasn’t until she was thirty that Katie discovered an affinity for classic country music. Wandering the stacks at the Seattle Public Library in the midst of recovering from a breakup, Katie came across a book called Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women In Country Music and devoured it in a couple of days, inspiring her to seek out many of the recordings mentioned in the book. “I had, of course, heard country music growing up, being president of the 4-H club and all,” says Katie, “But it had never affected me that way before.”
Back in New York, Katie met and began playing music with fellow Washingtonian country picker Brendan Curley. The two, now married, formed the band Bourbon Express, which released two albums before dissolving during the pandemic. Their second album, Cry About It Later, also produced by Ambel, elicited a buzz in the NYC country music scene. New York Music Daily called Bourbon Express “as good as it gets in hard honkytonk.”
The video for the song “Beauty Queen” was directed by Sarah Kinsey and feels more like a three-minute mini-movie. It features a motley cast of characters all suffering from the same undeniable symptom of aging, their first gray hair. Shock and horror quickly morph into grief, followed by acceptance, and finally, celebration as they simultaneously realize, with a little help from their “hairapists” that while change is scary, it can also be tons of fun!
“… one of the most distinctive sounds in country” – NEW YORK MUSIC DAILY
“I got the idea to have multiple protagonists all suffering from the same gray-hair conundrum after going through my own gray-hair crisis at my neighborhood salon, where my stylist took such good care of me that I realized it was not her first rodeo with a client at this particular milestone, and in fact, stylists really can and often do act as surrogate therapists and spiritual guides, lighting the way toward not only a new “do” but a new “you!” And it’s really beautiful and worth celebrating,” Katie states.
“Things were going just fine until I saw you
Staring back at me this morning, an angel in your own way
I know mirrors don’t lie, but I can’t face the truth
This cowgirl ain’t willing to go gray today” – Beauty Queen