Acoustic singer-songwriter Pete Kartsounes’ studio work is known for big production, with lots of guest appearances.
For years, though, Kartsounes’ friends and fans wanted a recording more like what they heard when the musician played alone — the sound of just voice and guitar, like on a coffee shop stage, at a house concert or sitting around the campfire after a music festival set. Local music fans may know Kartsounes from his frequent appearances at the Portland-area music festival Northwest String Summit, where he also manages a stage.
Starting when COVID hit in March, Kartsounes took the opportunity to give his supporters what they wanted.
Hunkered down alone during the spring, he recorded in his home studio in Bend a mix of older material and new songs, some of which were written as recently as May. In doing so, he processed world events and the experience of isolation in a whole new way.
With acoustic guitar and the occasional harmonica against Kartsounes’ grainy voice — at times like a smooth whiskey but other times dry and wiry — the music recalls classic acoustic singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne and James Taylor, but also neo-folkies like Ray Lamontagne and Jack Johnson.
There’s a quiet, reflective and introspective tone to the music, the songwriter’s own Walden Pond journal of sorts. That’s especially with songs like “The Great Unknown,” “What Am I To Do?” and “Tomorrow Could Be Gone,” in which Kartsounes sings, “Time to take on another day because it’s all we have… because tomorrow could be gone.”
“People really connect with that intimacy, and I’ve never really had an album like that,” Kartounes tells me over the phone. “When COVID hit, it was a perfect opportunity for me to not only just sit in the writer’s chair and write, because I was quarantining by myself for a good month.”
But there’s optimism there too, buoyed by Kartsounes’ highly syncopated and percussive guitar playing, like on the light and breezy opening track “Air to Breathe.” The pulse of Kartsounes’ hand riding the one beat in the measure gives the effect of a larger ensemble instead of just one musician.
“At first I was really wanting there to be more on the songs,” Kartsounes continues. “I just kinda went with it: less is more, no bells and whistles.”
The album was mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering, known for mastering archival Grateful Dead performances and a friend of Kartsounes from when the songwriter lived and played music in Colorado.
“When he got his ears on it,” Kartsounes says, “he just spread it out. I’m pleased with how it sounds.”
Out Here on My Own Vol. 1 is available on CD from Kartsounes’ website and all major streaming services. Kartsounes says to look for Out Here on My Own Vol. 2 in October; later in the year, he says to expect an album for meditation and relaxation in the style of collaborations between R. Carlos Nakai and Peter Kater.