Singer/Songwriter Krista Detor

By Mark Kirby [10-29-2005]

Artist: Krista Detor
Title: Mudshow
Genre: Self released

There are a million singer songwriters out there in the emotionally naked city. And Krista Detor is one of them. But her talent and the content of her songs are what sets her apart. Everyone goes “ohh ahh” over Norah Jones, but her best and most popular songs are written by Jesse Harris and Hank Williams.

Krista, however, is in the tradition of the neo folk revival with its roots in the coffee shops of the West Village in NYC in the sixties, and its continuation today. That tradition states that, while it’s cool to do other people’s songs and classic stuff, you have to tell your own stories.

And while Ms. Detor is not as sprightly and left-field original as Regina Spektor, she has chops, writes damn good songs, has experienced something besides a meteoric rise to the top, and has the courage of her own convictions.

On her previous CD, Ms. Detor was dreaming in a cornfield. Like a dream, this CD was cinematic, with odd characters coming in and out. There were guitars and saxophones, and a drummer hitting hard much of the time. There were surreal love scenes, wild desire, and a circus polka tune.

But like most dreams, all the characters are the dreamer, Ms. Detor. The new CD finds her in other people’s dreams, as a spectral fly on their walls. She sings the human drama, and like a good dramatist she takes ordinary people and shows us the complex myth that all of us humans live. In life we’re all born, grow, try to make sense of it all, and grab some truth and happiness before we weaken and die. In these songs, she explores the whole middle part. Like a poet and playwright, she makes songs out of crystalline moments.

Call this album a novel like Richard Wright’s “Manchild in the Promised Land” or the musical equivalent of Akira Kurasawa’s “Dreams”: a collection of short pieces - stories or short films of dreams - that taken together, form a whole, more than the sum of its parts.

The title song, "Mudshow," sets the stage with the album's theme: people sick of it all and getting the hell out. The character is young and okay, then becomes old: “And this side of the big top, time moves slow / Stuck in the belly of a travelin’ mud show.” The character runs but he can’t hide from himself:

Started out a sailor, I got the draft at eighteen / Never got anywhere near any war like the kind some people seen / Twenty years later I ran away from home / Long run of bad luck I found myself all alone . . . / Didn’t leave a note, left the kitchen light on / Went and joined the circus to paint a happy face on . . . / Too big for a clown car/ They handed me a shovel and they didn’t ask questions / Led me to the trailers, lookin’ at my future . . .

Don’t we all ask, “how did I get here and why?”

“Abigayle” is the story of why people pour into Los Angeles and New York: the epic search for something else. But most people just wistfully dream and do nothing and stay stuck in the everyday dramas of the small towns we live in - in or out of big cities:

I’m thinking too much about who’s doing what And ‘bout whom I’m supposed to be still / And sometimes I forget if it’s her or it’s him or it’s somebody different still / I’m getting too tired to keep track of it all And I care a little less everyday / But I’m pretty sure someone’ll drop by or call With something clandestine to say.

Other people’s problems are easy to solve, she seems to be saying, but they only remind us our own. Or not. Either way, it’s heavy weight and suffocation.

Some songs on the record show characters that are drowned or trapped in the prisons of longing and nostalgia, like “Peach Street,” (ghosts and sadness and booze and chains to a place) and “Buffalo Bill”:

Nothing new – in the morning light / Nothing new – ‘cept another stop light (on the corner) And all this time – where did he go - Buffalo Bill and his rodeo?

Others deal with bad relationships like “A Red Bowl”:

Green limes in a red bowl on the table / And I don’t know what you’re calling for / If I had a dime for every drop of rain / If I had a million-dollar name / Would you like me better? / Could it all be better?

And “Dancing in a Minefield:

You’re dancing in a minefield like Ginger Rogers /Like anybody looking hard couldn’t see / The sunken eyes and the hands a trembling / And every step is farther from me

And there are wild women, too, weird and untamed. Other characters escape like the woman starring in “Steal Me a Car”:

Steal me a car and we’ll drive on out of here / We’ll stop at the bar to get us some courage and a cold beer / I’ve seen what happens when people are stayin’ in this town too long / Steal me a car and I’ll drive and you can come along

At least in their minds, if not in real life.

I focus on the lyrics because the music is done in the piano-based, country-tinged singer songwriter style popularized by Regina Spektor and Nora Jones. Her stripped down style, with understated piano by Ms. Detor , bass, drums, cello, fiddle, guitar, dobro mandolin and accordion, are solely there to give musical underpinnings to the lyrics, to the musical movies it creates. But with the acoustically rich instruments, her music is technicolor and with a rich graininess.

Like most good art, her artful craft makes these little ditties remind me of me, parts of my mind, my self, that I try to avoid, like other people like women, like myself. Oh, wait, did I say something earlier about her making these dreamy songs by being in other peoples dreams? I think so, yeah, but now I’m thinking that these people could all be her, too. Maybe that’s why she chose to write about them because they remind her of her.

Like Mr. Natural would say, “Wherever you go, you are there.”

Go to her site and get the 411: and tell her Kirby sent you.

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