No Depression Online – May 2009

As old school as I like to be, there is something to be said about this current world of insta-smack-in-your-face-communication and how you can have that unexpected sensation of being completely captivated and excited about a new artist in the flash of a few keystrokes. It happened to me most recently when an email alerted me to Seattle’s Kristen Ward and within seconds I was on her website and streaming her latest independent release Drive Away. Immediately taken by her commandingly deep yet lush and sultry voice on the opening track Baby, her music struck me as incredibly fresh, intriguing, and written with the quality of someone who really has a good handle on her craft. Which says a lot for a young woman of twenty-six. Raised in Spokane, Washington, in a home where mom was a bluegrass singer and led family bedtime sing-a-longs to 70s folkies like Gordon Lightfoot, Carole King and John Denver, Kristen was always singing, be it the school choir or just around the house. My mom refused to let me have voice lessons, she says over the phone from her Seattle home, “because they’re gonna change your style. Just let your voice develop on its own, and when youre older, then if you need some fine tuning, explore that”. Good motherly advice has paid off for Ms. Ward, who since grabbing her moms Guild guitar around the age of 14 and diving right in till her fingers bled, her course was pretty much set. And then one day her voice suddenly changed to the enticingly rich and original quality that fills the songs on Drive Away.

With her heart firmly planted in the wide musical plains where country, rock and folk happily cohabitate, youll find a fine balance yet determined style at the root of Drive Away. The title track is completely gorgeous, a big, dreamy sound given to this heart-wrencher of a ballad. When asked if she envisioned this sound when writing the song, Ward replies, I couldn’t hear the parts as they are, but I knew what kind of vibe I wanted and how it should flow. A good song has a life of its own. When you get a good one, it’s like its not even from you anymore, you’re just channeling something cool. It’s coming through you and it speaks to everybody that’s part of it too. The band instantly did their own thing with it and it was perfectly right.

Citing her two biggest influences as Lucinda Wiliams and Neil Young, Kristen’s highly ambitious and successful DIY style reflects how influence and inspiration can coalesce into a greater creation. Drive Away was recorded in Seattle with her band of local musicians including Gary Westlake on guitars and mandolin and Kevin Suggs on pedal steel (Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready also contributes guitar to one song), and was funded by Kristens unique approach to maintaining creative control from start to finish. Along with seeking donations from fans culled from gigs and her web site, a free download was offered in exchange for an email address. In this day and age, not only is this a far cry from the Gold Circle of the ticket gouging times that currently engulf every music fan, but this approach can only be seen as smart and enterprising for an artist out there fighting the good fight. The resulting outpouring of support secured the recording and release of Drive Away, and Kristen is currently taking the same approach for her new recording she is about to take on to be titled My Last Night On Division. If you’d like to be a part of the team that will help make this album, check out

Rob Bleetsein, No, May 18, 2009


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