Karen Mason and Louis Rosen: Ages Since the Last Time

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Karen Mason and Louis Rosen

Ages Since the Last Time

Chelsea Table + Stage, NYC, May 11, 2024

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

Louis Rosen and Karen Mason

Karen Mason and Louis Rosen came up together in Chicago 50 years ago. Mason was a singing hostess at the “class joint” Lawrence of Oregano. Her musical director, Brian Lasser, who passed in 1992, had gone to school with Rosen, which led to the connection between Mason and Rosen. Mason, a Broadway and cabaret veteran is likely known to our readers, debuted two of Rosen’s songs.

In addition to writing songs and making recordings, Rosen has been an immensely popular teacher at 92Y over 35 years covering everything from theory and classical music to rock, pop, and musical theater. Both artists have released multiple albums.

Their affection and respect for each other were palpable. Rosen, who rarely performs, was in familiar territory as he played and sang his own works. Though she has presented some of her friend’s songs, Mason was unaccustomed to having solo guitar accompaniment (Rosen moved back and forth from piano to guitar). She rose to the occasion with thoughtful, pristine vocals. Mason’s sound was bright, Rosen was cottony.

Karen Mason

“I Want to Live to Love You”—“I sing for you/you sing for me”—arrived with short chords and elongated lyrics (masculine and feminine?). Mason closed her eyes. “I wanna hide in our unmade bed,” she sang, as she savored, envisioned, hummed. Rosen sat at the piano for a solo of “Notre Dame is Burning”—“Arson from within/Flames consume the air/Heartbreak everywhere”—which cited a number of disasters. It was an “An anthem of helpless despair.”

“I Need You,” performed as a duet, had lyrics that Cole Porter and Larry Hart would have appreciated: “I need you like a seed needs the rain/Like pleasure needs pain; Like a well needs a spring/And a wish needs a well.” With a twang and a grin, the two performers played lyrical ping-pong.

“Brian (Lasser) understood the word ‘show’ in show business,” Rosen began. “We have a belter here” he declared as he nodded to Mason. Lasser’s buoyant, sophisticated “Tear Up the Town” emerged like the powerful spritz of shaken, uncorked champagne. “Who else would change octaves on the last note,” Mason quipped.

Louis Rosen

From Rosen’s first CD, Southside Stories, Mason sang “Troubled Children”: “Ronnie and me at the back of a bus” (her shoulder rose) “daring and eager, but scared/Chasing our dreams, unprepared.” (Mason’s hands clasped each other around the microphone stand.) This was a story song about missed opportunities made touching by an aching melody and a mention of unnecessary death. The ballad “Morning Soul” emerged sighing and stretching with gratitude: “I built the wall/And you had the will to climb.” The guitar and vocal were delicate.

“There are no second acts in American lives” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, who clearly met none of our politicians. The quote was used to  introduce Rosen’s “My Third Act.” In it, the protagonist approaches a young waitress, who responds, “You remind me of my dad, it might be fun,” to which he responds, “Call me ‘pops,’ my third act has begun.” It was both droll and resigned, but not passive. “Gonna pack my pills, my back brace and my gun.” If we don’t have humor to get us through, then what do we have?

Mason’s very different interpretation of “Chicago” (Fred Fisher 1922) was accompanied by guitar in a way that evoked the era in which it was written. Slow and mournful, it evoked black-and-white gangster films. Rosen’s “Dust to Dust Blues” came right after that: “I’ve been in the wilderness/I seek out the holiness.” It was a rambling tune filled with smokestacks and slaughterhouses, perhaps seen from passing boxcars; it might easily have been written by Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger, given its clarity of notes rather than strumming affects.

“Love and Ashes” from Rosen’s most recent CD found the songwriter hunched over the piano: “The beauty of life and the heartbreak of living are one.” Mason sang evoking shadows, clothes discarded on the floor, and a half bottle of MacCallan whiskey. The pair closed with a duet on “Dinnertime at Jimmy’s,” a Covid song about nostalgia for community.

Writer’s note:
See my profile of Rosen: https://www.womanaroundtown.com/sections/living-around/louis-rosen-a-serious-musician-in-a-porkpie-hat/

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.

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