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Former guitarist with Rhys Chatham and Band of Susans (among others) and now a hematologist/oncologist affiliated with New York University Hospital, Karen Haglof is releasing her long-overdue debut solo album Western Holiday. The album was recorded at Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s Cowboy Technical Services in Brooklyn NY and mixed at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium in Kernersville, NC. The core personnel is Karen Haglof, guitar and vocals; Steve Almaas, bass, vocals; and C.P. Roth on drums, percussion and piano. Mitch Easter played slide guitar on “Musician’s Girlfriend Blues” and the late, great Faye Hunter sang on “Lincoln Letters.”

Western Holiday revolves around Haglof’s hard-hitting yet spry, stripped-down blues-inflected playing and writing. As the first fully–realized showcase for her masterful fret work, spirited singing, and impossibly catchy riffing, Western Holiday represents not only Karen’s return to making music but her emergence – after years of collaboration – as a complete creative artist in her own right.

The impetus for making Western Holiday came from two directions. The first was the untimely passing in 2009 of Karen’s friend and mentor Jeff Hill, an old friend in Minneapolis who Karen calls “my first real guitar instructor and inspiration. We had kept in touch and he was encouraging about playing, and also picking up old interests beyond a workaholic medical career. His death was a huge blow.”

Later that same year, Karen caught the music documentary It Might Get Loud at an East Village theater. “The old Jimmy Page and The Edge footage brought back all the early excitement about playing. I hadn’t kept up with rock or guitar music at all, and seeing Jack White was a bit of a revelation. I felt like I wanted to play again.”

Karen says: “I [now] work in a field where very often I have to deliver bad news to people who thought they had more time to do all they’d planned. If you think you want to do something, you’d better do it now.”

But after years away from the recording studio, Karen “had no clue how people go about doing things these days. I had this idea of maybe recording four songs, making some videos and putting them on YouTube.” She began to experiment with an open–D tuning simply because “I didn’t think I’d be in a band again, and I wanted to be able to play things that were fuller and felt more complete alone.”


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In late 2011, Karen emailed her former Crackers band mate, singer/songwriter Steve Almaas, with parts of two new songs, “Lincoln Letters” and “Dog In The Yard.” Steve encouraged her to aim for a full album and contributed lyrics for “Lincoln Letters.” Karen herself finished “Dog In The Yard,” then went on to compose “24–Hour Prayer,” title track “Western Holiday,” and the rest of the new songs.

Before embarking on her current career as a hematologist/oncologist affiliated with New York University Hospital, Karen paid years of dues on the rock scenes of her Minneapolis hometown and her beloved New York City. Throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, she was an active participant in the fervid musical underground of downtown Manhattan. As a guitarist and vocalist, Karen moved with ease between the tuneful post punk guitar pop of The Crackers, the noise–rock of Band of Susans, and the abrasive, ecstatic experiments of composer Rhys Chatham and painter/sculptor Robert Longo (both still active in music).

Though you may search high and low in the departments of our nation’s hospitals, it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t find on staff a more talented singer, songwriter and guitarist than Karen Haglof.


Karen Haglof Talks About Selected Tracks from Western Holiday

“Western Holiday” — “I rode horses growing up, and in the past few years started going out West to dude ranches, three or four times a year, riding over thousands of acres of open land. At dude ranches, an experienced cowboy or wrangler is the trail leader, and often they have pretty interesting life stories involving seasonal work: Arizona winter, Wyoming summer, etc. ‘Western Holiday’ is based on a wrangler I’ve known from a couple different ranches. Us dudes are on vacation while the wranglers are busy working – they’re not just there for our entertainment. This is that story.”

“Danger Point” — “This song came from one of my walks home from work, down Third Avenue from 32nd Street to the East Village. Dusk on a hot summer evening, the day coming down to night, seeing the young girls coming out all dressed for a Friday night in the village, and their expressions schooled in indifference to the street. It’s the idea of planning to just go home in the guise of propriety but being on the verge of staying out and maybe connecting with someone or something that should really be put off….’keys’ both literal and figurative.”

“Saddle Bronc Rider/Barrel Girl” — “This is based on my travels out West and a particular wrangler – a young buck who rides the saddle broncs at the rodeo, and has dreams of travel but also with a strong eye for the ladies that could get him snared…”

“The Button Song” — “I kept finding buttons on the ground for a couple weeks and imagining where they might have come from.”

“Don’t Straddle Fences” — “A lonely evening on the western range, a road/life chosen and regrets lived with – the idea you can’t have it all ways. Thinking about Jeff Hill.”


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