Kristie Stremel has rock star arms. Thin, tanned, muscled, with just the right amount of tattoo—perfect rock star arms. She’s also got a perfect rock star voice, which serves her well again on her recently released third album, 10 Years, which combines old favorites reworked alongside two new classics. The new album make it easy to see why she has garnered praise for her work across the country and is a perennial in the Pitch’s Best Of edition. Her first two albums, All I Really Want and Here Comes the Light, were ambitious and true to her heartland roots. 10 Years showcases the mature artist and a poignant sophistication twisted into a six-string and a downbeat. It rocks.
This album marks the move to her own label, Stremeltone Records, though her collaboration with long-time producer, Lou Whitney, continues. Whitney, who has produced the Del Lords and the Domino Kings, finds a way to keep Kristie’s voice at the front of every song.
Kristie’s music has been described as “a jolt of what rock-n-roll should be–a powerful voice dripping with passion and heartache accompanied by a driving beat and stellar guitars.” Her voice borders on plaintive at times and is delicately edged with that “one too many nights in a smoky barroom” sound that can only be achieved by spending one too many nights in a smoky barroom. Kristie is rock and roll dipped in punk and then hung out to dry on Johnny Cash’s clothesline.
Most of the tracks on the album are deceptively simple. The themes are familiar: love lost and found, regret, and finally faith. The lyrics are immediately accessible, sometimes lamentation, sometimes exultation, sometimes both in the same song, as in the stirring Leap of Faith: “I built a wall and you walked right through/like you didn’t have a thing to lose/four days later I am calling you on a leap of faith.” And sometimes Kristie finds a way to express the frustrations of a world not yet hip to the reality of gay visibility, as in the brand new “It’s Not a Phase”. “Hey, I want to be free/kiss my girlfriend in the street/get closer to me. I want the whole world to see/it’s not a phase.”
One of my favorites is the re-released “Circles”, which starts off with just a piano and Kristie’s voice. She sings, “Guess I’ll cancel that trip for two, hike my ass down the avenue, and dial your number again,” but then the song evolves and builds with guitar and drums until I found myself standing in front of the stereo with my own air guitar and rock star scowl, nodding my head to the beat that takes the song back down to a quiet finish. Kind of a perfect rock and roll song.
It’s one of the highest compliments paid to a songwriter when she can take the personal into something universal that ends up feeling personal again. Kristie does that over and over again.
Kristie was raised in Hays, Kansas, and now lives in Kansas City, and it’s that kind of geography that inspires much of her music. She lives every lyric and walks every chord. It’s the kind of authentic music you expect to hear live, on a rainy Tuesday night, in a dark bar in Memphis. Fortunately, you don’t have to drive to Tennessee. Kristie and her new band are playing at Mike’s Tavern in Kansas City on December 8, The Bottleneck in Lawrence on January 12th, at Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club in Kansas City on January 13th and the Ritual Café in Des Moines on January 21. She will also have a solo acoustic performance at Coffee Girls on Southwest Blvd. in Kansas City on December 9. For more information on performance schedules visit www.kristiestremel.com.

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