Krystle Warren – a Missouri native who has spent time performing on the streets of Paris and New York – made a name for herself with her 2009 debut, Circles. She draws obvious comparisons to Tracy Chapman, but perhaps it’s only due to the depth of her alto vocal range. Despite comparisons to Chapman and Nina Simone, Warren is a decidedly different brand of singer-songwriter, managing to hit multiple styles, often within a single song, so that each carries with it a new and refreshing sense of promise and surprise.
Her new album is the first in a planned two-album exploration of love, with the second due out later this year. On Love Songs: A Time You May Embrace, Warren is once again joined by her talented backing band, The Faculty, and she cites such diverse influences as Dusty Springfield, Paul Simon, Bill Withers, and Donny Hathaway.
Album opener Tuesday Morning sounds a bit like Stevie Wonder’s Village Ghetto Land, with a staccato string quartet and a wonderfully genre-bending sensibility. Warren’s voice is husky and challenging in all the right ways, while her delivery oozes a rare sort of smooth playfulness. Five Minutes Late is Dixieland jazz á là When I’m Sixty-Four. These two set a sort of false proscenium before the album, which changes gears into reverb-soaked, classic, Phil Spector pop territory with Forever Is A Long Time, which drags and sways with sultry slowness.
Every Morning is a near return to the coffeehouse fare that made Warren’s debut Circles such a mystifying excursion, but that warm string quartet hangs on for appearances throughout, adding an extra element of loveliness to the occasion. You Can Take Me With You is perhaps too sweet for its own good, at times sounding a little like a Jack Johnson holdover, but by this point in, Warren has proven herself trustworthy, so a bit of saccharine sweetness is forgiven. Indeed, on repeated listens, Warren’s soulful vibrato makes for variable entrancements.
I Worry Less works in the same way as Wilco’s She’s A Jar (and it even sounds a little like it), but the addition of slide guitar suits Warren’s lovelorn croon, and the organ – whirring through its Leslie speaker – lends the track a classic feel. The One Who Takes You Home is a full-band affair, smoky and perfect for rainy city nights at apartment windows, overlooking the stained-glass splash of brake lights far below. Every Other Day is an oddball here, and its loose-limbed percussion and chanted vocals are a welcome change of pace.
The standout track is a stripped down string quartet take on William Blake’s poem, The Clod And The Pebble. “Love seeketh not itself to please,” Warren sings. “Nor for itself hath any care.” A lovely sentiment for today’s self-obsessed times, indeed.
This first chapter in Warren’s Love Songs project creates its own universe, spinning on despite the chaos beyond its borders, and over the course of its runtime, it’s not too difficult to imagine that the hostilities of modern life may just have faded away outside. Even if the illusion proves untrue once the stereo is turned off and the album put away, it’s quite nice to spend some time in the warm glow. The project’s conclusion – A Time To Refrain From Embracing, due out sometime this fall – has a lot to live up to, and with its titular promise of darker, more complex subject matter, it’s certainly one to look forward to.