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.