CD Review: Early Kristina Stykos reveals a budding talent

 

In the early 1980s, music recording gear became much more affordable and easier to use. With the advent of machines that could record on both sides of a cassette tape, four-track recording, the ability to record four separate tracks, to on tape on a small machine became possible. This was a boon to the budding musician and professional alike. It was fairly simple to use but sophisticated enough that performers like Bruce Springsteen used it, specifically for him on the album, “Nebraska.” Kristina Stykos of Chelsea was a young woman, not yet married and then childless, with dreams of becoming a recording artist. In 1982 she bought a Fostex four-track cassette tape recorder and began recording demo songs she had composed. She did this for a decade until 1992. On the recordings she played piano and guitar. Nearly 30 years later we have the result of those early recording efforts. “The Lost Tapes 1982-1992” has just been released and fans of Stykos should cheer her for keeping these tapes so long - and also for deciding last April to take another listen, digitize and edit them and release the results. On “The Lost Tapes” we get 19 tracks and 75 minutes of a youthful Stykos whose musical ideas were emerging, somewhat less mature in performance but no less professional than the work she has presented in albums released in the past decade. We hear in her singing a younger, more vulnerable vocal character. Here she is a performer with a sweeter voice nearly void of the smoky quality that inhabits her current voice. If you listen to recent Stykos albums, it's obvious that the young voice could hit high notes that she can no longer attain. At the same time these early songs seem to lack the lower vocal register of her current ability. This sweeter tonality gives her thoughtful lyrics a bit less gravitas than the mature voice of today. That said, the intensity of her performance and the sincerity of her lyrical ideas remains. Stykos' guitar work, while less complicated than in recent albums, is professional and enjoyable. Her keyboard work shows thoughtfulness if not virtuosity. At times while listening to the lost tapes I heard Judy Collins, perhaps a bit of Melanie or Lora Nyro. Because of the limited amount of information a four-track cassette could capture performers had to distill their musical ideas into simple parts. This made for less excess in the process and a more focused approach. With Stykos this is quite evident on this album, a good lesson she has taken into the high-tech recording world she now inhabits at her home digital studio where her own work remains sparse and minimalist. On “The Lost Tapes” there is a bit less clarity in the sound than one would expect from full digital recording, but it isn't obtrusive and the listening experience is pleasant. I suppose my only quibble with this CD is its title. “The Lost Tapes” conjures up the work of a well-known professional, say a Bob Dylan, whose nascent recordings were thought lost and then found moldering away in boxes somewhere. While Stykos is talented for sure, she's not a household name. “My Early Years” might have been a more appropriate title. That said, great music isn't produced because the performer goes into a 64-track professional studio and spends many thousands of dollars hiring a producer and engineer. Without excellent material and talent no amount of money can turn a sows ear into a silk purse. Kristina Stykos used minimal equipment and low cost instruments on her early work, but had the talent that was necessary to render wonderful music. “The Lost Tapes” is a welcome addition to the Stykos discography.

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