Saturday, April 23, 2016

Kristen Lynn: “LaLa” (2012) CD Review

Kristen Lynn is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles, her music a delightful mix of folk and jazz elements, her instrument of choice being the banjolele. Kristen Lynn’s debut CD, LaLa (which came out at the end of 2012, but which I was just turned on to now – better late than never, right?), is an excellent album of mostly original material. There is something wonderfully quirky about certain tracks, infused with a child-like quality, an innocence, which calls to mind bands like The Moldy Peaches (listen to “By Your Side” and “My Best Friend” for examples). But the music is earnest as well, at times reminding me of Ani Difranco (listen to “Steal Me Away”). That’s not to say that the music is imitative; Kristen Lynn creates a sound that is her own, and which I really enjoy, a sound that seems to flow naturally from her, though there is certainly something of an old-time vibe about it.

Though this CD contains mostly original tunes, Kristen Lynn opens LaLa with a really good cover of “Whispering,” a song written by John Schonberger, Richard Coburn and Vincent Rose. This is a song that I love, and Kristen Lynn’s rendition is a treat. The music has a very bright, happy feel to it. “Whispering while you cuddle near me/Whispering so no one can hear me/Each little whisper seems to cheer me.” Kristen follows that with an original song, “By Your Side,” featuring the line “And I don’t know why I keep ending up by your side.” There is something so sweet and honest about the delivery, and that is a big part of what makes me love this song. Kristen plays guitar on this one, and is joined by James Murphree on mandolin and Peter Suarez on lead guitar. There is an excellent instrumental section toward the end that makes smile each time I hear it.

The title track, “LaLa,” has a great jazzy old-time vibe, which fits with lines like “Sometimes it feels like yesterday/When you were here and everything was okay.” But the song looks forward more than it looks backward. James Murphree plays mandolin on this track as well. And I really like Jim Hancock’s work on bass. That’s followed by “Looking For Love,” which has a very positive, cheerful sound. “Looking for love/Looking for love/Don’t you know someday you’ll find it/Seeking a friend/That you’ll have to the end/Don’t you know someday you’ll find it.” Then her cover of Lee Alexander’s “Lonestar” has more of a country vibe, with Peter Suarez on slide guitar. Sara Sincell provides some backing vocals on this track. (This is a song that Norah Jones included on her debut release, Come Away With Me.)

Kristen Lynn includes two other covers on this CD. The first is Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine,” which she delivers with a sweet innocence and vulnerability, as well as with love. She is accompanied by only the banjolele, and then partway through by Karen Willey on backing vocals. “The other night, dear, when I lay sleeping/I dreamt I held you in my arms/But when I woke, dear, I was mistaken/So I hung my head and cried.”  This rendition made me happy and sad simultaneously. Ah, the power of music. That is followed by the album’s final cover, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” written by Fabian Andre, Wilbur Schwandt and Gus Kahn (and here titled “Dream A Little Dream”). It’s been covered by many artists over the years, with famous recordings by folks like Louis Armstrong and The Mamas And The Papas. This version by Kristen Lynn has something of a Hawaiian vibe.

Kristen Lynn switches to piano for “Strangers,” a gorgeous and moving song that also features violin. That’s Judy Plester on violin. This is one of my favorite tracks, partly because of the line “Now we’re just strangers in this life,” which is such a beautifully sad line. “You played the victim/Not the man I saw in there/If you would have just opened up your heart/Maybe we would have fought through the hardest part.” Another of my favorites is “Why,” the CD’s closing track, a totally delightful song that had me smiling almost immediately. It has something of a gypsy feel, featuring James Murphree on accordion as well as mandolin, and Judy Plester on violin. I also love Clayton Hamburg's work on upright bass. This is the song that asks the question we all find ourselves voicing from time to time: “Why?”

CD Track List
  1. Whispering
  2. By Your Side
  3. LaLa
  4. Looking For Love
  5. Lonestar
  6. Steal Me Away
  7. You Are My Sunshine
  8. Dream A Little Dream
  9. Tomorrow Night
  10. Strangers
  11. My Best Friend
  12. Why
LaLa was released on December 18, 2012. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Kristen Lynn.

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