No Depression Review

6 - KIRSTEN MAXWELL – 6 TRACK – Independent

Kirsten Maxwell – from Long Island, New York -- opens her six-track EP with an appealing vocal and little story song that is convincing. “I Couldn’t Breathe,” is impressive in its storytelling – Kirsten unravels a deep tale and dresses it up in a vibrant melody.

While, for this EP, I disagree with others that she should be compared to Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez – these tunes don’t have any of the old folk traditions, more classic folk singing, or jazzy inflections each woman exemplifies respectfully. Judging from this collection – Ms. Maxwell’s voice is more in line with more progressive female vocalists. Her voice alone wraps itself around your ears for certain and her voice is enduring. Is she a folk singer like Collins? Her voice has the tone but doesn’t have the experience of traditional songs. Mitchell? She doesn’t write her songs in any of the Joni Mitchell genres here nor is she as descriptive and wordy. Baez – I don’t hear it or see it. Is this a criticism? No…it’s simply not accurate – not on this latest EP anyway.

Maybe she did sound a little like those female singers on previous releases but this EP doesn’t suggest that course. 

The question whether she could be like Collins? Baez or Mitchell? That may take awhile since writers forget just how unique a style those women carved out. The potential? Yes. Sounding somewhat like them doesn’t make the artist what they are. I can sink countless baskets but I’m never going to be an NBA player.

I’ll Be the Fire,” is more in a Sarah McLachlan-Vanessa Carlton vein. She possesses a commanding breathy, yet still powerful tone that has a persistent live-wire approach. The song has typical lyrics this time out but Ms. Maxwell’s vocals make up with a focused delivery. Musicians are all on the mark and it is today’s basic style. I would like to see Kirsten challenge herself and try hard to deviate from an already acceptable style – and really put the irons in the fire. She has the voice.

“I Wonder If,” is more on target. Kirsten with basically just a piano and another well-written lyric uses a wider range and she is what I expected – more inventive than just a good singer. Emotionally charged song, with just enough sensitivity without being pap, enough creative words to keep its head above cliché and enough vocal diversity to keep the song lit with bright and light with very little smoke escaping up to the ceiling. Here, Ms. Maxwell sounds like Ms. Maxwell and no one else. Bravo.

Kirsten continues to keep her showcase interesting with different instruments and a nice melodically charged arrangement in “Prism.”This is one of the best performances on this EP. She may have started out sounding typically singer-songwriter with commercial pop leanings like several good female singers but here she shows a tinge of Americana possibilities and the possibility of country-rock, of a more folk tradition and a roots recovery. Not Collins, not Baez and definitely not Mitchell. If her career as a pop chanteuse fizzles she has the goods to spread out and become even more viable with traditional music. Her voice has the timbre and the sincerity. Finding a niche is the trick.

With “Butterfly,” Kirsten solidifies her worth with a mystically mysterious and captivating tune. She has taken her Sarah M. cues, but she seems to have injected a little Kate Bush muscle and Stevie Nicks wizardry into her writing and performing. I could see and hear Fleetwood Mac perform this, yet, I listen and the definitive performance is Kirsten alone. This is a little masterpiece from this young lady. This is an artist still in the making and not just a singer. There is drama, there is pacing in her voice. It almost dips into the darkness of Swans’ Jarboe but she safely doesn’t.

The final track is “It Started With a Rose,” and I guess Ms. Maxwell left one of the best for last. This is not just singing a song straight with a good voice. This is rehearsed – word for word. She knows which words are more important than others. This has an old-world beat and approach but her voice elevates it to modern day and the voices are lashed together sophisticatedly. There is a hint at June Tabor, Christine Collister crossed with Annie Haslam/Jane Relf (lead vocalists in different inceptions of Renaissance). Maxwell straddles the rope of progressive rock but she doesn’t really allow it to overtake her style. She is classy just using the power of its rock cum classical punch and unleashes this beautifully performed showpiece. This was an excellent song.

Website: http://www.kirstenmaxwell.com/

 

 

Young Huntington Singer-Songwriter Draws National Attention, Accolades

Kirsten Maxwell of Huntington has been named a winner of the 2016 South Florida Folk Festival Singer-Songwriter Competition after showcasing her talents, along with 12 other finalists, during the annual festival in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 16.  As one of three winners, Kirsten received a cash prize and has been invited to perform on the festival’s main stage next January.

This is just the latest in a series of accolades that the versatile 23 year-old vocalist, guitarist and songwriter –- who has quickly become a recognized fixture on the Long Island singer-songwriter scene — has received in recent months.  Last year, she was the first-place winner in a contest sponsored by the Rhode Island Songwriters Association (RISA) and had the pleasure of opening a concert there for Michal Johnson (“Bluer Than Blue”). She also earned a coveted slot in the Suzi Wollenberg Folk DJ showcase at the 2015 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) Conference that took place in Kerhonkson, NY last November.  Last fall, Kirsten also drew a standing room only crowd to the Cinema Arts Centre’s Sky Room, where she and Annika Bennett, another young singer-songwriter, showcased their talents as part of the Folk Music Society of Huntington’s monthly Hard Luck Café series. Kirsten will present a free concert at the Huntington Public Library on Friday evening, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. She also shares a bill with Cathy Kreger, another Huntington-based singer-songwriter, at the Our Times Coffeehouse at the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island in Garden City on Friday night, Feb. 19.

Here’s a video of Kirsten performing “Crimson,” the title track of her debut CD, last fall in Providence, RI: 

Kirsten’s stunningly pure voice has drawn comparisons to the likes of Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell and is evocative of the 1960s folk scene. “I never thought I’d ever hear a voice as angelic and mesmerizing as I did when I first started listening to Joan Baez some 50 years ago, but then I heard the voice, the songs and melodies of Kirsten Maxwell,” says Jon Stein, host of Hootenanny Café on WTBQ-FM in Orange County, NY. Stein will interview and spotlight Kirsten on his show on Sunday, Feb. 28 that airs at 9 p.m. and will also stream online at www.wtbq.com and be archived at www.talentconnections.com.

Kirsten, a Huntington High School graduate, who holds a BA in Creative Writing from SUNY Geneseo, has been exercising her passion and writing skills since composing her first song at age 12. Last year, she independently released her debut album and is currently promoting it to folk and other radio programmers across the country and beyond. Entitled Crimson, the album is available as a CD and a download at her website (kirstenmaxwell.com) and at CDBaby.com. Crimson is Kirsten’s unique look at lost or unrequited love. Each of its 11 songs is a story unto itself that reveals the emotional driftwood of relationships run aground. “It was love at first listen,” says Joltin Joe Pszonek, host of Radio Nowhere on WMSC-FM in Montclair, NJ, who first heard Kirsten perform live during a Borderline Folk Music Club Picnic in Rockland County, NY last summer.

Sharing his sentiments, Artie Martello, who produces and hosts a Mostly Folk podcast from upstate Halcottsville, NY, says: “Her exceptional vocal range, lilting melodies and heartfelt performance is the perfect match for her songs. Crimson will take you on a journey through familiar moments in life and have you nodding your head in agreement. The best part is that this is only the beginning.” Martello’s interview with Kirsten will air on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 7 a.m. and can be heard online at http://mostlyfolk.org/.

John Platt, host of Sunday Supper on WFUV 90.7 FM in the Bronx, also is impressed with Kirsten’s abilities and will feature her in his monthly “On Your Radar” showcase at Rockwood Music Hall on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Tuesday night, March 8.

Other upcoming area appearances of note include The Song Box house concert series in Seaford on Saturday, April 23 (during which she shares the bill with Annie Mark, another Huntington area singer-songwriter. The two artists work during the day at TK’s Galley, a restaurant in Halesite] and The Eclectic Café in Bay Shore on Saturday, May 14 (during which she’ll swap songs with nationally touring singer-songwriters Rachael Kilgour and Matt Nakoa).

“It is exciting to return to your home town after college and connect with it in a new way,” says Kirsten. “My days at Huntington High School were some of the best, but I did not identify with the community until I found the folk music scene on Long Island. The musical community here is powerful, and fellow musicians and music lovers are the reason I have made it this far doing what I love.”