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Kandia Crazy Horse: Girls rock

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Kandia Crazy Horse is a unique talent. Having spent time as aa award-winning rock journalist, she has more recently been inspired to walk on the wild side and put out her own music. It was the unfortunate loss of her “Virginia-born Afro-Native mother” that drove her out of the audience and onto the stage. Her debut disc, Stampede, contains 10 tracks that hold a special meaning to her.

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The album had an unusual origin. Crazy Horse elaborates: “My original concept for Stampede stemmed from (my mother), my Southwest Georgia aunts, and a very important and legendary group of music people who had created, shaped postwar, New South-rooted sounds – including Johnny Cash, Memphis-born Arthur Lee of Love, Jim Dickinson and those behind Capricorn Records: Phil Walden and my honorary Papa, Jerry Wexler. So, my intent was to write all the songs for this memento mori-type song cycle to be entitled Stampede – due to all the losses – but I was never going to sing on it nor become a real recording artist.”

Crazy Horse continues: “ I initially wrote almost 30 songs, and solicited a carefully curated group of musical heroes – including a time when a lot of Atlantic Records, Stax, Muscle Shoals-associated folk were in town (New York City) for ‘da Wex’ memorial – to embody the stories and range of emotions inherent in such a paean to the now dying sounds, culture, and lifeways of the South that bred me and shaped my worldview through their art: Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie, Jerry Jemmott, Aisha Kahlil of Sweet Honey In the Rock, Spooner Oldham, Mike Finnigan, and a few others. Yet, I of course could not raise enough money for the recording; the days of the classic platter cutting process as practiced by Atlantic Studios in New York and the amazing Rick Hall at Fame in Alabama that had nurtured me all my youth and made me love vinyl LPs above all else is sadly long gone with the winds.”

Despite the initial stumbling block she would quickly find additional encouragement. “Inspired by some of my fellow riders in the City – Amanda Jo Williams from Georgia; Alana Amram and Abigail & Lily Chapin of New York – I eventually regrouped, and began to work with Shakira’s Cuban musical director, Albert Menendez, and a clutch of members of her multicultural band.”

She added: “My longtime best friend, California-born/raised producer Craig Street, offered studio singing and songwriting advice which led to me discovering my Muses were not male artists as I’d believed but Buffy Sainte-Marie, Stevie Nicks, and Jackie DeShannon whose very underrated 1968 Laurel Canyon LP was Stampede’s prime seed. And, last but not least, the legendary Leon Ware – fellow Afrolachian artist Marvin Gaye’s songwriting/production ace & creator of ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are’ – remains my Spiritual Advisor for this whole career undertaking. “ Evidently, where there’s a will there’s a way and her CD was just recently released by Bluebilly Records.

On the album singer-songwriter Crazy Horse is backed by several other additional artists including: Olgui Chirino (backing vocals), Tim Mitchell (guitar and guitjo), Ben Peeler (guitar, banjo and lap steel), Joe Ayoub and Ricardo Suarez (bass), Brendan Buckley (drums), Megan Mullins (fiddle), producer Albert S. Menendez (keys and programming) and The Quartz Hill Choir consisting of: Angie, Jesse and Olgui Chirino, Juliet Maisha and Ricky Ruiz.
The lead-in is “California”. This is the first single off the CD and works well as an introduction to her signature sound if not the variety in selected song styles. It’s also the first song Crazy Horse composed.

She says the song “came just as I was returning from a long stay in Sunset Beach with my friend and her band, a glorious time that made me reflect on my own highs and lows through the prism of the Golden State.”

The second selection is “Congo Square”. This one takes a different direction than the previous piece and makes things all the more interesting. It’s another of her original compositions meant to pay tribute to her mother.

The next number is “Gunfight at the Golden Corral”. This one smacks of country and as it turns out it should. According to Crazy Horse this song draws upon her time in Missouri and is meant to sound “as if Merle Haggard could be singing it on the Rock-Ola."

It’s followed by “Americana” which reveals some of her love of the Appalachian Trail and Georgia Low County. It has a natural flow that allows the cut to find its place here. Crazy Horse covers Neal Casal’s “So Many Enemies” next because she “fell in love with” his Sweeten the Distance LP and adds: this track simply felt like my auto biography.”

It’s back to her own material with “Cabin in the Pines” which draws upon her father’s stories his visits to an infamous motel/jookhouse. It’s enjoyable and quite well done actually.

The next song, however, while working musically is distracting if only in terms of the tile. “Soul Yodel #3” had your rockin’ reviewer wondering what happened to the previous two. Have no fear oh haters of Heidi as her soul yodeling is more akin to Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye than the Swiss Miss gal.

Crazy Horse elaborates: “I was very focused on the intersection of Elizabethan folk and African musics in Appalachia—My mother’s side is Patmunkey Indian, African and Scottish; so whether in the mountains or amongst the Allman Brothers in Macon, the Afro-Kelt spirit always calls to me and is a frequent inspiration . . .”

“Cowgirls” come in next. This is country-roots rock road rally. Yes, you may have heard it before and yet Crazy Horse has tinged the typical tale with her personal female perspective which makes it work well.

“New Kid in Town” is the second cover cut here. Crazy Horse’s vocals give it the Eagles’ hit a new angle though and familiar songs on a new artist’s album are welcome as long as they bring something new to the mix. Crazy Horse does admit that the song “ended up on the record in a roundabout way.”

She said that JD Souther invited her to a show. It was the first time she had heard the classic cut in a guitar-piano arrangement. Plus, this and the other adaptation “meshed with the album’s emotional tenor and music scene background”. That’s how it scored a slot on her CD.

The album end-note is “Quartz Hill”. This is said to be “a paean to Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield”. Crazy Horse comments: “This is my favorite track . . . I despaired of the song being included until I found a crucial ally in . . . Ben Peeler. When his . . . parts came together with the choir, suddenly the whole production team was blown away by the song and finally grasped its majesty.”

Overall, Kandia Crazy Horse has seemingly made the successful tuneful transition from observer to participant. While she may be the “New Kid in Town”, her debut disc, Stampede, may very well earn her a place in “Americana” music.

My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.

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