From Kansas City to busking in Manhattan, tours with Rufus Wainwright, and now a Paris resident, Krystle Warren’s trajectory is almost too boho to believe. But given the background, the laid-back fusion of jazz folk and country on debut album Circles, it comes as no surprise.
Warren seems to have taken the long way around to develop her style, and the sound of her debut is the very picture of maturity. While her press releases invite comparison with Jeff Buckley and Nina Simone, form the languid opening of Year End Issue to the end of the album the laidback Starbucks gloss recalls early Norah Jones and, at its edgiest, Joan Armatrading.
As coffee-table music goes, Circles certainly has a lot to recommend it. Warren’s voice is rich and subtle, warm and soulful. The musicianship on the album is flawless, with arrangements incorporating elements of easy-listening, jazz and southern blues. From the basis of a simple percussive guitar, Warren’s team of musicians build tracks with layers of playful saxophone, dextrous bass lines and, with greatest effect, the slide guitar that gets a welcome outing on the stand out Current Events. The combined effect is at times not unlike Shelby Lynne, although Warren lacks the idiosyncratic bayou charm.
The songs are typically urban snapshots of fleeting love on public transport and loft-apartment aspiration: a stolen gaze over a skinny-latte and dreams of distant shores on a rain-drenched Manhattan morning rush to work; not exactly the stuff of Simone or Buckley songcraft. The lack of narrative means that one’s attention wanes all too easily, and tuning back in from time to time on lines such as “trousers, shoes, and underwear are all you really have to wear”, one gets a sense of smug, rent-controlled urban life.
The trouble with Circles is that it never really engages. Try as one might, it’s hard to focus on the album. Warren’s sound is clearly accomplished, but perhaps its slickness is its downfall. Circles is quality dinner-party music, lifted above average by the accomplishment of Warren’s voice and the assembled musicians.