Saturday, June 27, 2015

My first engineer and producer - Kristina Stykos

CD cover photo by John Churchman
What feels like a million years ago, but was in fact 2005, I had this crazy idea to record a CD of stories. I had no idea how to do it and wanted to do it right. I asked a few friends, some of whom said: 'do it yourself, you can do that', but I wanted to set the bar high and have no regrets about what I put out as my first foray into the retail world of CDs – while it lasts!

A friend of mine, Rick Barrows told me about Kristina Stykos who going digital and was a recording engineer. I got in contact with her and the rest, as they say, is history. My first CD is still one of my favourites. Kristina did a brilliant job. Recently Kristina released her own fifth, to my knowledge, CD called Horse Thief. I had Ms. Stykos' first CD, In the Earth's Fading Light (2005) and could not quite get into it. I saw and heard a great songwriter and performer, but for me, there was something missing that I could not put my finger on. Whatever it was, is here in bucketfuls on Horse Thief.

Kristina's songwriting skills, both musically and lyrically are top notch. Her word choices are flawless. The sadness in some of the songs (some heart wrenching) is deep, her lyrics are powerful, have meaning and grit behind them. There is humour too. And bounce! I listen to so much music and these days it is hard to find a great beat and tune, catchy as all heck and good lyrics. It seems that either the words are, quite bluntly, shite and the music is good, or the other way around, or it's all crap. But not here. Oh, no, not here. I grew up listening to master song writers from Paul Simon to Elvis Costello, and Stykos hits the mark on Horse Thief, totally!

The album opens with the crackingly good title track resplendent with slide guitar, passionate fiddle and thumping bass and drums, and of course Kristina's voice. I have to say something about her voice. It is all hers. Some voices out there in the ether sound the same as many others, and but a few stand out. As you wind through the songs on Horse Thief you will hear slight traces of Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith and a hint of Marianne Faithful, but it is all Ms. Stykos. Her voice is like a V12 engine, just idling, or cruising along some boardwalk with the wind blowing in your hair. I have not seen Kristina playing live, but will try to, as I want to hear her belt out some song and see what that V12 voice can do!

Photos of Kristina Stykos by Jack Rowell

The second track keeps up the high standard of work (which flows with ease through the whole album) and the music here is complimented with keyboards which I wish there was a little more of. But that's just me – I love the sound Kristina uses on the song and in You'll Never Love Me. The third song, Me, Myself, Moi could have seemed a little out of place, but it is perfectly at home on Horse Thief. For some reason, with no reason, this is one of my favourite tracks. The lyrics are very clever in an unpretentious way. Although a tradition approach to a sort of patter song in it's feel, it is a very topical song with references to our modern digital world:
"I need a 12 step, two step /Quarter sawn fix /Or a savvy zen seduction /I need clickable buttons /And a 1-5 list of simple tips /And how-to instructions." Love it! These are very different lyrics to It's Over where Kristina sings:
"...I threw down my stars /and shouted at the night" - powerful stuff. As If Tears Could Say is one of the most beautiful songs I have heard.

The album jogs along taking you through country, city, and rural Vermont life. This is a great album. Unpretentious, clever, witty, intelligent. Kristina has great insight. The music, played by Stykos (acoustic guitar, banjo, bass, mandola, mandolin and keyboards as well as vocals) is backed up by some great musicians: Bow Thayer, Patrick Ross (the brilliant fiddle in Horse Thief), Alex Abraham, Neal Massa, Steve Mayone, backing vocals on a couple of tracks by Nikki Matheson, and drummers Matt Musty and Jeff Berlin.

The packaging is a treat. I loved album covers when we all used to buy vinyl and some LPs I only bought because of the covers. This might have been one of those albums. The photography throughout the tri-gate digipack and booklet (yes, there is a booklet inside with all the lyrics and players so you can read along!) is stunning and, I think, captures all of Kristina.

I would love to hear an album of Stykos' with more work like the title track. Story songs of floods, old timers, bank robberies, or maple syrup thieves maybe! This album is about love, betrayal and loss, and redemption and done in such a way it is uplifting. I did not want the album to end and when there were some longer pauses after some of the tracks I hoped for more and got it. The 13 titles ends with an instrumental called Remembering and is the perfect ending on a perfect album, like a sigh in the night.

Package designed by Darryl Garland/

Kristina Stykos is a musician and recording engineer/producer. Her websites are:-
For her music:
and her studio, Pepperbox Studios, which is totally off the grid:
And you can buy her music at

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