Ravengirl Review

by Leslie Piken
for Sealed Lip Records, December 2006

I met Kristi three years ago, just months before her life-partner Littlebird took her own life. This event altered Kristi's life forever; and I never realized how much this event would change my life and so many others as well. Chronicled in her new album "Ravengirl," Kristi Martel's true colors are shining through all of the grief and hardship. Embodied fearlessly in this sixth (her 3rd full-length) album; joy seems to come quite naturally to Kristi in a strange yet enduring way. Fittingly, in her song notes she clarifies that her experience of joy in the year after her Littlebird's suicide made her feel like a "superhero." The superhero name she chose was none other than "Ravengirl," which opens up Kristi's world and her experience for all of us to see and hear.

Poignant, would be a word that comes to mind when listening to "Ravengirl," but even then, that doesn't do it justice. Shocking or astonishing would be more appropriate. I've come to realize just how many dedicated listeners Kristi has out there, of which I am only one. Whether you've been listening for years, or have just been introduced to Kristi Martel, Ravengirl will definitely astound. All within fifteen songs, Kristi manages to touch every spectrum of the emotions, both familiar and unfamiliar. It just makes me realize how much of my emotional experience I neglect on a daily basis. Then to experience all of these feelings within a 64 minute LP is simply unbelievable. Within the first few strokes of the keys of "Harder than Dying" it was almost as if my chest was opened up and something else filled that space. In "Crossing into Dreams" the 'bumbling tumbling song' she describes in her songbook; Kristi brings out another side of herself, cheerfulness. This is a familiar state of being for Kristi; as she carries a silly smirk with her most of her days. This frame of mind even comes out when singing a song she used to sing with Littlebird, her life-partner lost. In "Dear Emily" Kristi courageously shares with us the events that occurred surrounding Littlebird's suicide. This song is not just an inscription of the events that occurred in those fateful days, it is a disquieting experience that seems to pull the listener right in. During the crescendo of the song, Kristi plays these big thick chords back and forth like a mad woman. It evokes such a haunting desperation; a wailing or crying expressed instrumentally unlike anything I have ever heard coming out of a piano. This song will stay burned in my memory for as long as I can imagine. It touches a part of my history that many of us struggle with in losing a family member to suicide, and also because Kristi truly is grieving through this song. Beyond its unmistakable compositional brilliance, it gives validation to those who are struggling with similar horrors.

There's something downright uncanny about the way Kristi speaks to her fans and listeners within moments of hearing her sing. Her performance, her lyrics, the way she holds herself, and the way she dances (literally and on the keys) when she sings- it is as if she is, in essence a true storyteller. But, more than that- she's like[1] a spirit guide- as she takes you through her emotional experience, pain, and joy, holding your hand the entire way as if she's known you your entire life. She's a true artist who's mastered her form, and composes rich music, writes emotionally shocking lyrics, and possesses a four-octave range that is simply amazing. Her music rings a similarity to Stevie Wonder, Patti Griffin, Bjork and Toni Amos to name a few. She's toured nationally and played in legendary folk venues such as Club Passim and Stone Soup, festivals and conferences, coffee houses and clubs, concert halls and churches. She's been reviewed and interviewed in prominent national publications, college papers and radio stations. Interestingly enough she's got a style that sets her apart from the most legendary of performers.

Ultimately, Ravengirl is a masterpiece. It's interesting to think about the fact that the album is just a piece, a fraction of Kristi's vision and hard work for over a decade. Every minute of her life she eats, drinks, sleeps and breathes her music, and it is quite apparent while listening to this master of her work. A mere fifteen songs only scrapes the surface of her indisputable talent in scoring, producing, creating, writing and performing music. Be what it may, Kristi captures such horrific pain, life altering loss and breakthrough joy with such ease that it left me completely stunned after listening to Ravengirl. Whether you are an experienced listener of Kristi Martel's work or hearing her for the first time on this album, prepare to be moved. There's no way you can finish this entire record without being touched by one or all of her lyrics, musically, intellectually, emotionally or all of the above. Kristi has a way of reaching out personally to her listeners and fans that is unique from the many performers out there. My advice is: do yourselves a favor and experience this album and all of the joy it brings.

[1] Not to be mistaken for Bill Dvorak's foolish review from the Boston Dig. Meant as a comparison, not a statement of Kristi being spiritually divine, or for the faint in mind, "hopped up."

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