Artist: Krystle Warren
Album: Three the Hard Way
Label: Parlour Door Music
Release Date: 8.18.17
Singers like Krystle Warren don’t come along every day. Possessed of a deep, rich timbre, her masterful, androgynous vocals seem haunted by history on her quietly captivating new album Three the Hard Way.
Warren’s somber reading of “Red Clay,” about a Tulsa, Oklahoma African-American community wiped out by the Ku Klux Klan in 1921 is especially poignant. As with other tracks on Three the Hard Way, the instrumentation treads lightly, not wanting to intrude as a pained Warren meditates on what occurred. That it took place near where her grandmother lived adds weight to Warren’s sorrowful retelling, one which evokes the fear and anger the victims must have felt in that moment.
Don’t mistake the slight trembling in Warren’s voice for weakness. Like Nina Simone, the artist she’s most frequently compared to, Warren is strong, dignified and occasionally fierce, always in control of intense emotions and fluctuating ever so slightly when necessary. Amid the hushed, glowing intimacy, soft minimalism and utterly unique interplay of blues, folk, R&B, jazz and gospel traditions she’s created as a songwriter and bandleader in Three the Hard Way, Warren’s spirituality and passion holds sway.
If the Cowboy Junkies had recorded The Trinity Session in a small sharecropper’s shack, rather than an empty Toronto church, it might have sounded like this—warmer, closer and earthier.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the soulful “Well,” which oozes smooth, organic sensuality. Visiting the Mississippi Delta, the spare folky blues of “So We Say” is broken up by delighted, little handclaps and Warren’s graceful, scene-stealing presence, while “Nae-Nae and Ruthie” smolders and creeps along in the night. Worship is in session on the rousing closer “Move!” It’s almost as radiant as the slow-building, expansive “Thanks and Praise,” which revels in the intoxicating beauty of Jeff Buckley. Damn, if Warren sounds a lot like him.