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Kristina StykosKristina Stykos
Album: Horse Thief
Label: Thunder Ridge
Tracks: 13

Based in Vermont, where she runs her own label and off-the-grid studio, Stykos lists producer, recording engineer, songwriter, radio podcast host, and performer on her resume. This is her fifth album (two of which have been collaborations) and draws on the serene but also hard and often unforgiving nature of life in the Green Mountains, in remote area of northern Vermont that she calls home.

Featuring Bow Thayer on bojotar (a hybrid of banjo and resonator guitar) and Patrick Ross on fiddle, the raw title track opens the album in moody, blues-soaked style with a tale of love, lust, rejection and murder that reveals her voice to have distinct Patti Smith qualities, a comparison that also rears its head on the rap style delivery of 'Me Myself and Moi' and its 12 step programme to loving yourself that, like several cuts, features just Stykos on guitar, bass and keyboards with veteran session man Jeff Berlin on drums.

Elsewhere, as on the mandolin-streaked, slow bluesy confessional 'It's Over', her smokey vocal evokes nicotine-stained Marianne Faithful while quieter numbers such as the acoustic 'Heart In The Wreckage' and jazz-tinged piano ballad 'As If Tears Could Say' suggest Joni Mitchell.

However, comparisons only sketch part of the picture and throughout Stykos firmly etches her own voice and identity on the material, whether that's the late night jazzy blues vibe to 'It's A Mystery', the strummed pop-folk chug of the stalker fan/self-esteem themed 'Let It Run' with its background phone conversation, the tribal stomp groove to 'You'll Never Love Me' (where Buffy Sainte-Marie meets Neil Young), the organ-driven funky blues 'Talk To Me' or the beat poetry psychedelic strains that underpin the cosmic tides of 'Human Of Peace'.

The album closes wordlessly with the simple, gentle piano, banjo and guitar instrumental 'Remembering', bringing to an end what she describes as a journey through chaos and honey. It's one you really should walk with her.

Mike Davies