welcome to 'between the commas'

Between the Commas

Jeff Karoub

"Between The Commas" is Jeff Karoub's fifth album. It's a collection of songs about living through crises—the big and small, imagined and observed, personal and universal. Sometimes they are shared, sometimes ours to face alone. Some bring us together, others tear us apart.
It offers lessons—first for himself and then perhaps others—from living a
"Between The Commas" is Jeff Karoub's fifth album. It's a collection of songs about living through crises—the big and small, imagined and observed, personal and universal. Sometimes they are shared, sometimes ours to face alone. Some bring us together, others tear us apart.
It offers lessons—first for himself and then perhaps others—from living a life of words and music. It also builds on Jeff's rhythm-and-roots folk sound, with full arrangements conceived and created by Jeff Karoub and Andy Reed.
Read more…
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7

About the album...

"Between The Commas" was recorded during late 2022-early 2023 at Reed Recording Co. in Bay City, Michigan. The collection of seven songs by Jeff Karoub was co-produced by Andy Reed and Jeff Karoub, and engineered, mixed and mastered by Andy Reed. 

"You don’t need advice from me — but somehow I think I should provide it."

That’s how I lyrically kick off "Between the Commas," the leadoff track of the album for which it’s named. Now, does the world need advice from a 50-something male singer-songwriter? Maybe not. But it turns out to be an appropriate place to start, because I am offering up some hard-won wisdom throughout this album. Especially to myself. 

We’ve all lived through a lot in the past few years: A pandemic, insurrection (here in the U.S., at least), major wars, increasing natural disasters. Personally, I lost my mother. All that wouldn’t seem to be inspiration for hopeful music, but I’m here. If you’re reading this, you’re here, on the planet. That has to be enough, and counts for something. I close the album with “On the Planet,” in which I sing: “I find so much to bring me down, across the world and right here in this town. It leaves me feeling low, forgiveness comes so slow—I’ll count whatever blessings are around.”

This is a collection of songs about living through crises — the big and small, imagined and observed, personal and universal. Sometimes they are shared, sometimes they are ours to face alone. Some bring us together, others tear us apart. 

I didn’t set out to make a concept album, nor do I think I necessarily achieved it. But crises of all kinds emerge as a theme, anyway: I explore what’s gained (and lost) as we age and how we grapple with all that life throws our way. One song, “Little Bird,” was inspired by a New York Times story about an endangered bird losing its ability to sing its mating song—and what that says about us and our relationship with each other and the only planet we currently inhabit or can sustain us.

So, is it all a downer? I don't think so. There is always struggle but somehow we persevere and even manage to find a groove. There’s always the hope that as long as we are here, we’re finding common ground. It starts with each of us and though I routinely fall short, I sing this in  "Leaving Love": "Sometimes I get it right, and the tune’s in tune with me."

I believe that songs can and often do have multiple meanings and inspirations, including ones the composer hasn't thought of or might not care to broadcast to the world. I share some stories below that offer at least some of what was on my mind or in my heart as I wrote these songs. 


Between the Commas 

Leaving Love 

Summer's Almost Over

For All That's Been Lost

Little Bird

Lead With Your Heart

On The Planet


Jeff Karoub: vocals, guitar, violin, alto saxophone, keyboards

Andy Reed: bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, vocals

George Luckey: Guitar on 'Between the Commas' and 'Little Bird'

Dan Houston: Drums on 'Between the Commas' and 'Little Bird'


The painting featured on the front cover and the artwork used throughout is by Adnan Charara (http://www.adnancharara.com/). This work is part of his series entitled "Lunacy," described as "a strong look at our collective struggles, emotional challenges seen through the lens of lunacy."








By Jeff Karoub

This is the intro to an obituary I wrote while working for The Associated Press. Check out that bit of wonder between "Barry Bremen" and "died of..." At the AP, we called that "between the commas" — the high points of someone's life. You know, the stuff you might be remembered for—good or bad. 

We won't all crash gates or get chased by the likes of famous baseball coaches, but the "between the commas" bits are the only parts of our life we have some hand in choosing. Not being born, not dying. We could do worse than imagining what we want our obits to say and live life with that in mind.

You don't need advice from me
But somehow I think I should provide it
Trouble gonna come somehow
If you don't already stand beside it

We're born, we die
Not much choice in either drama
But babe, the real stuff comes
In between the commas

I spent a lifetime seeking answers
Finding solace in the search
I know it's not one-size-fits-all
Like buying your favorite singer's merch

What I offer is just one small thing
Imagine your obituary
Think of what you'd like to say
Something more than ordinary


© 2023 Jeff Karoub


By Jeff Karoub

I was on my final flight home from Europe after playing my first official overseas gigs (thanks, Finland!). I boarded early (thanks, Delta!) with my guitar and had a moment of quiet reflection amid the chaos of traveling.

I thought about how indescribably cool it was to play for appreciative, receptive people in a foreign land (including at a prominent Nordic folk festival) and the many who went out of their way to help house and feed me, as well as provide key support with logistics, booking and promotion. Music brings people together in a way I can't fully understand but hope never to take for granted. I was glad to be heading home but I was going to miss them and the place, too.

As I sat alone in my seat, and the opening lines of this song came to me. 

I'm leaving love behind
Hope there is more where I go
I can look at try to find
That's the only way I know

I know I've found it before
Or maybe it's found me

Sometimes I find a locked door
Opens eventually

Stars in the daytime sky

Find faith in things you can't see
Sometimes I get it right
And the tune's in tune with me

I'm holding space in my heart
And standing on hallowed ground

Letting the answers come
Then I'll be homeward bound


© 2023 Jeff Karoub



By Jeff Karoub

It was technically late summer but after Labor Day. That's early fall for most of us in the Midwest and this was a couple weeks beyond that.

I was stirring the embers at the end of what would likely be our last driveway bonfire for the season, lingering a little longer even though the air without the warmth of the fire wasn't inviting me to stick around. Holding on to those last bits of summer, or any of life's good but fleeting stuff, only gets more important as we get older.

My friend and bandmate, George Luckey, calls this an "around the beach campfire song," though I'd add it's one that should come with some blankets and sweatshirts.

Feel the air, summer's almost over
Stir the embers, settle in

The night may be young, but we're all getting older
Pick the battles you can win

There are times that take my measure
Many paths and no way through
The times I've had it easy
I find it hard to be true


There are times of pain and pleasure
Out of breath and feeling blue
Hear a call before you're ready
For the path ahead of you

It's always too soon
But never too late
The way we live
What we leave to fate


© 2023 Jeff Karoub



My father wrote a piece of music while a student in high school. It was called "Marche Brilliante," and the director was so impressed that he had my father direct the band as they performed it. It was exhilarating but terrifying—and a turning point for the shy son of immigrants in the 1940s: He saw himself not just as a musician but someone who could be a teacher and conductor, too. He would go on to play in major symphony orchestras and work as a band teacher for several decades. 

I asked him one day if he had the music. He said as far as he knew it stayed at Highland Park High School. The school is long closed but remains standing, a target for vandals who have damaged, looted and set fire to sections of it.

The music is likely another casualty of a town that survives despite depopulation and disinvestment. Still, I am working with some preservationists and community leaders to find this music, hoping against hope it remains in the vacant school, filed away in the also-closed city library or tucked away in someone's garage or home.

It may not matter to many people, but for all that's been lost, I want something to be found.

For all that's been lost here
For all that's been lost
I want something, something to be found

For all that's been lost here
For the lines that we've crossed
I want something, something to be found

Everywhere I look
Everyone's playing with fire
Surprised when we find
Everything burned down

Everywhere I look
Everyone's playing with fire
No one to blame
When everything's burned down

For all that's been lost here
For all that's been lost
I want something, something to be found

For all that's been lost here
Who bears the cost
I want something, something to be found

I want something,
something to be found

© 2023 Jeff Karoub

Image: Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library


By Jeff Karoub

John Lennon had his "I read the news today, oh boy" song ("A Day in the Life") based on reading the Daily Mail, and I found inspiration in The New York Times. The story that spurred me to put pen to paper and fingers to frets was about an endangered species of songbird that's failing to learn songs needed for mating, and thus, survival. 

To me, it seemed like a wake-up call for us all as we lose touch with each other, our planet and the creatures that inhabit it. I do wonder how long before it's too late for this bird, and perhaps for us if we don't take better care of the only world we've got. 

Chorus I
How does your song go, little bird?
When you've got no mama to teach you
Make up your tune,
little bird  
Though it won't
help another reach you

You sing to mark your place
You sing to find a mate
Numbers fall—familiar call
Is lost in shrinking space

Chorus II

How does your song go, little bird?
When you've got no mama to teach you
Wake up and sing little bird
Find your tune so another can reach you

The others can't understand
These songs don't belong in this land
No one comes to you anymore
Low supply and demand

Chorus I & II

© 2023 Jeff Karoub


By Jeff Karoub

As a writer for a university that has produced more than its fair share of movers and shakers, I was drawn to the work of a professor who seeks to go against the grain and bring about a new ethos in business—developing leaders who put working for the betterment of the world above maximizing shareholder value and their own net worth.

Tall order, to be sure, but he secured funding to create a long-term program that incorporates retreats at a research station in Michigan's northern woods where students can leave the distractions of the world behind, commune with nature (but maybe not raccoons) and focus on ways to channel their concerns and passions into meaningful work—and lives. It won't always be easy or comfortable, but it will be worthwhile.

Andy Hoffman's book and program are called "Management as a Calling," and the idea resonated with me. We need drive and ambition but to rely solely on them is a dangerous road. We want certainty but none exists. The best we can do is lead with our hearts—without somehow losing our heads. 

Start with ambition
See where that road goes
Succumbing to temptation
That life so often throws

Clamor for an ending
That offers some resolve
A break or even bending
Onward we revolve

Lead with your heart
But don't lose your head
This is your life to live
So keep your soul fed

Call it a calling
If it helps to have a name
Rising and falling
No one's path the same

Cause you know 
That some days it's all about holding on
And other days letting go


© 2023 Jeff Karoub



By Jeff Karoub

Neil Finn, one of my all-time favorite songwriters and music-makers, deserves credit for "giving" me the opening line (and title). I was watching a video clip of him in the studio with his sons (now full-fledged members of Crowded House). They were about to lay down a tune and he was either distracted or slow on the uptake in a particular moment. So he uttered the phrase, "I'm really on the planet today."

Tongue-in-cheek, to be sure, but I loved his self-deprecating turn of phrase. I jotted it down and kept thinking about it. I began to hear it as a sort of "declaration of enough"—a recognition that just being present amid all the chaos and struggle in the world represents a victory all on its own.

I'm really on the planet today
I don't know what else I can say

I'll try to find the words
Something you haven't heard
I'm really on the planet today

I find so much to bring me down
Across the world and right here in this town
Leaves me feeling low
Forgiveness comes so slow
I'll count whatever blessings are around


I keep my hope however faint the light
In darkness that might be a welcome sight
I take another's hand
Strangers in this land
Hoping for an end to this fight


© 2023 Jeff Karoub