Review: Krystle Warren

Krystle Warren
(All Saints Church, Hove - Brighton Festival - 24th May 2012. Review by Edana Minghella)


The first time I saw Krystle Warren was on TV a couple of years ago. A flurry of divas had pitched up at Air Studios for BBC 4’s The Great American Songbook, to deliver their interpretations of favourite standards: Claire Martin, Melody Gardot, Gwyneth Herbert, even Annie Lennox and Sharleen Spiteri. Suddenly, this woman in jeans, checked shirt and peaked cap, appeared. With a shyness, almost diffidence, she breathed the deepest tones into Love for Sale and turned A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square into a sex song. She was mesmerising. Later I caught her live at Meltdown, just Krystle, her guitar and a couple of guests, including folk hero Teddy Thompson. It was an informal, playful performance to a smallish audience that loved her.

Krystle is impossible to define. She hails from Kansas, lives in Paris, recorded her latest album (a double ‘live’ recording of mainly self-penned love songs) in Brooklyn. She cites Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder & Paul Simon as influences, and her manager told me she loves Betty Carter and Kurt Elling. But she has recorded with Alison Krauss, Robert Plant and T Bone Burnett. In the UK, she’s known for her participation in the series of Nick Drake tribute gigs: Way to Blue. Her sound is definitely more folk, country, bluegrass than jazz or R&B. And yet, and yet... That voice is a perfect jazz voice. The deep notes are rich as mahogany, the higher notes softer and soulful. She seems to have perfect pitch, and knows her material so well she can deviate and improvise at will and with an exhilarating freedom – when she chooses (which she does on the album).

At last night’s sold-out gig, she had a cold and stayed well within a comfortable low range, though her tone was as exquisite as ever. Instead of her usual band (The Faculty), Krystle was backed by London’s own talented, bluegrass-inspired Wagon Tales, with the excellent Ben Somers (double bass, vocals), Joe Auckland (trumpet, banjo), Kate Robinson (fiddle, vocals), Lewis Cohen (guitar, vocals) and Joe Hymas (mandolin).

The set derived mainly from the new album. Stand out tunes includedI Worry Less, a country-style ballad in 3/4 that perfectly reflected Krystle’s warm narrative style, her voice almost purring in the knowledge that she doesn’t just love, she is loved back. The Clod and the Pebble was a simple guitar-led setting of William Blake’s poem from Songs of Experience, with delicate, balletic vocals and featuring Kate Robinson’s strong, soaring fiddle. A Barbershop-style close harmony number, accompanied by the audience “stomping” (Krystle’s word), was not quite as successful. But the encore – the Title Track from her earlier album Circles – was fabulous and rousing.

Krystle is an intimate singer, her songs are personal stories. She smiles and chats. All Saints, a huge, cavernous church with dark stained windows, felt like the wrong space for us to sit down with a guitar and a glass of red and share in the magic and sadness (or as Krystle put it, the joy and the “ouch”) of love.

Flattering comparisons have already been made to Nina Simone, Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading. I heard sexy, slurring echoes of John Martyn last night too. So why isn’t Krystle better known? She doesn’t have Nina’s burning rage or Tracy’s social commentary, and to be honest, her own tunes are not as catchy as Joan Armatrading’s. But I suspect her reach is smaller than it should be partly because she doesn’t conform to stereotypical images of female singers, about which she neither apologises nor even comments. She is who she is. Whatever the comparisons, Krystle’s stunning voice is all her own: as deep and resonant as a cello, and – when she lets rip – as powerful as the ocean. She deserves a wider audience. And what I would give to hear her perform a whole gig of jazz standards!

Love Songs: A Time You May Embrace by Krystle Warren & the Faculty, is out now on Parlour Door Music

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