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Kristi Martel’s ‘avant-soul’

Divine introspection
By CHRIS CONTI  |  January 15, 2013

THE SINGER is celebrating “the arrival of a new decade.”

Happy birthday to singer-songwriter-pianist Kristi Martel, who will be celebrating in fine fashion with a headlining set at the Roots downtown next weekend as part of the ongoing Luna's Ladies Night Series. Martel is a spirited and spiritual performer — a self-described "avant-soul piano diva" — and her most recent set of songs, The Sacred Whore Demos, gathers a handful of gorgeous, introspective tunes.

Martel's impressive musical background includes two music degrees (Bard College in NY and Mills College in Oakland, CA), and an ASCAP grant before beginning her touring and recording career in 2001 (she self-booked 55 shows across the country over 80 days); in 2011, she was a finalist for the MacColl Johnson Fellowship (a $25,000 artist's grant). She was born and raised in New England and has lived everywhere from NYC to San Diego before returning here (like we all do) in 2003.

"I absolutely loved my community, but I never felt at home out there," Martel noted. "I always missed the distinct seasons, especially autumn and winter. I write from my experience and the experiences of those around me, and the landscape and climate definitely have an impact," she said.

Martel spent the last two years hosting a radio show, "Butterfly Mixtapes," on 90.3 WRIU-FM, is a yoga instructor at a holistic health center in Wakefield, teaches voice and piano lessons, and releases her music through her own Sealed Lip Records.

The 2006 full-length Ravengirl garnered national exposure, including a feature on NPR for the song "Littlebird's Flight," named for Martel's former life partner who committed suicide in 2003. She refers to the album title as a "goofy joke superhero name" she gave herself as an alter ego seeking to find joy and solace in life following her tragic loss. I asked her if writing served as a creative escape valve when things got tough.

"I don't think of writing as an escape, because generally I don't believe escape works as a way to release things," she said earlier this week. "I did work through things by writing, but honestly, I couldn't write for nearly a year after Littlebird died.

"Writing about Littlebird's suicide was an incredible process of transforming the pain of that trauma into something powerful and even healing," she continued. "I got to experience all the pain in real time, and then let it go. But I also got to experience a daily dose of joy, which blew my mind.

"There are parts of that year I don't really remember because I was in shock, but by feeling everything I could instead of trying to escape, I actually came out more 'free' on the other side."

To celebrate the "arrival of a new decade," Martel will be dipping into her extensive back catalog for her upcoming performance, including cuts from Ravengirl, The Mule (2004), and Brave Enough (2001; check out Martel's catalog at iTunes and I'm looking forward to hearing some of these Sacred Whore cuts up close and personal as well. "I'm high enough just living, just breathing air sky, earth and sea," Martel sings on "Gutter Mouth," and her vocals soar confidently on the title track. "Blessed Community" is another highlight, inspired by the church services she attended at the Bell Street Chapel in Providence.

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  Topics: Music Features , Bard College, Kristi Martel, Mills College
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