Kirsten Thien is one of those women with whom it's hard to decide which came first: the voice or the singer. A woman as young as she is shouldn't be this drenched in soul and blues, it just ain't possible…and that's exactly why I asked to review the CD. After watching her on a YouTube vid, I was a bit shocked—just her and a guitar…hm, tough act to pull off nowadays, but that was precisely all that was needed. A cross of wild woman, earthquakey artist, wise bird on the wire, and sensuous combo of Lilith and Iseult, Thien's more a phenom hiding in rooted familiarity than just another blues songstress. If this is her alone, God help audiences when she tours with her band; the human body was not designed to withstand gale force bliss.
Solo Live from the Meisenfrei Blues Club cleaves to a cluster of standards from Sippie Wallace to Sheryl Crow but also a handful written by Thien herself, the entire boatload of a piece under her hands. That guitar, you soon discover, is actually just a prop. Sure, it's needed, but her voice and infectious spirit stand clearly out and in a fashion that echoes Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Bramlett, Inga Rumpf, Janis Joplin, and the bevy of wimmens who got things going in the modern era following on their own antecedents (Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Clara Smith, etc.) and then notching them up. No doubt this Meisenfrei gig was a daring and nervous venture, especially given that the venue's accustomed to blaring rock 'n roll, but Kirsten pulls it off beautifully, bringing the voice back into its own as a solo instrument in the blues sphere.
The stripped-down version of Fooled Around and Fell in Love reinvents the song by yanking its understructure up to the front of the house. Despite all Elvin's pretty bells and whistles, crafting the song into the rightful hit mello-rocker it emerged as, the true baseline is a marriage of folk and blues, and Thien nails it. The culmination of the disc, a medley of Ain't no Sunshine / The Thrill is Gone is street-exquisite, a blues lullaby for adults and slowed down even below Bill and B.B.'s originals. One can even hear, listening closely, echoes of Donny Hathaway in the rendition. So don't buy this CD expecting a Buddy Guy or Ana Popovic blow-out; no, instead, think of a cross between old Harlem and the Apollo, the Village in NY, and the end of the beatnik era, where things were appreciated for quality and nuanced expression rather than decibels and ornamentalia.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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