Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Kiya Heartwood, an award winning independent music veteran who’s recently dropped her latest studio endeavor, ‘Palo Duro.’ The singer songwriter’s flair for roots rock, folk, and country musings is particularly refreshing because of its remarkable authenticity. ‘Palo Duro’ is an album that embraces a grassroots style that is so missing in the indie scene right now. Let’s explore the new album.
It’s worth immediately noting that I spun ‘Palo Duro’ twice through in-studio on monitors. The production is very good. It’s simplistic, yes, but Heartwood is elegantly accented amidst very complimentary soundscapes of traditional instrumentation, and later on, edgier rock compositions. Often times in the indie scene artists struggle with this type of production. Everything on ‘Palo Duro,’ however, fits into itself nicely to create a pretty full portrait - no mastering problems or ill-organized mixes.
That portrait is very American. This is traditional Americana at its best in the scene right now. While the opening track, ‘Icarus,’ is perfectly pleasant, the titular track that follows is especially good. The atmospheric, reverberated space that Heartwood creates is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s ‘Man in the Long Black Coat,’ with its raw harmonica sections and sharp lyricism. If the record exhibits anything, it’s that Heartwood is a strong storyteller. That’s her most admirable quality.
I’d argue there are other flairs to the album as well. ‘Mirage,’ for example, has hints of Latin influence scattered throughout. The nylon string classical guitar and hand percussion are very well performed - she’s got a strong backing outfit. It’s a stark contrast to the steel-stringed ‘Palo Duro.’ ‘Ferris Wheel’ then makes another jump, offering a soft spoken, introspective jaunt.
I was a bit worried that this album would fall victim to the same issue a lot of rootsy indie records do - being too long. At ten tracks, it’s a meaty offering that I was worried would get bogged down in repetitious stylings or lyricism. Surprisingly, however, each of the ten tunes is quite apt for inclusion.
Within her own genre niche, Heartwood actually carves out different subsets of styles. Take ‘Fame and Fortune.’ The upbeat tune sounds like it’s straight out of Nashville. Then, you hit ‘White Flag,’ one of my personal favorites on the effort, and you’re greeted with soft, but edgy electric guitar that dances about with rhythm guitar in an anthemic way.
The best track of the latter half of ‘Palo Duro’ may very well be ‘End of the War.’ Completing an electric evolution that was hinted at on ‘White Flag,’ the track hosts some electric guitar musings that are borderline bluesy. Heartwood’s lyricism is at her strongest, too, as she croons, “I never really understood what we were fighting for.”
As the record progresses, Heartwood’s musical themes actually become more rock oriented and more contemporary. This is very good - it gives her some basis in a modern scene that then accentuates her traditional structures. ‘Burial Ground’ is one of the more punchy tracks on the album, an exhibition of gritty, Texan-style rock. ‘Perfect’ then offers a ballad-esque excursion through similar territory.
To close out the album, Heartwood fittingly returns to the traditional stylings of the former half of the collection. ‘Veinte Anos’ directly delves into that Latin/Spanish influence toyed with on ‘Mirage.’ It’s actually a duet with a male vocalist in Spanish set to a sweeping classical guitar. It’s one hell of a closer, and a statement of immense versatility.
Kiya Heartwood genuinely excites me. As a deep lover of traditional Americana, blues, folk, and other similar avenues of music, I see Heartwood as a breath of fresh air amidst a scene very preoccupied with far less genuine endeavors. (A lot of the Americana that comes across my desk is indie rock with an acoustic guitar at best.) This is the real thing. Spin it below!
Orlando Sentinel Orlando Fringe Festival's Best of Fringe 2015
The Orlando Sentinel reviewing team has seen more than 100 shows at the 24th annual Orlando Fringe Festival, now underway at venues around Loch Haven Park. From comedy to dance, from music to mystery and magic, here are our 15 picks for the Best of Fringe, listed alphabetically. All critiques, plus video previews of many of the shows, are available online at OrlandoSentinel.com/fringe.
It was a particularly strong year at the Fringe — and we had trouble narrowing down our favorites. We didn't even let ourselves count the revival of "6 Guitars," which is among the Fringe's all-time best productions.
'Kiya Heartwood: Song Tales from the American Edge'
Kiya Heartwood is a modern-day American troubadour. She scours the nooks and crannies of history to find interesting tales of romance, injustice, danger and death. It's a simple show but it packs a powerful punch. Bronze venue, 55 mins., 7+, $10. Show: 2 p.m. Saturday, May 23.
Orlando Weekly Fri. May 15, 2015
Friday, May 15, 2015
The List Aug. 2015
It's easy to like a performer who calls herself shy, then vigorously headbangs to a song about Walt Whitman. Singer-songwriter Kiya Heartwood has a disarming openness which fills her short set with warmth. She plays straightforward acoustic folk, studded with occasional blues riffs and bluegrass flurries. Though at times her earnest lyrics feel naive, it's the true stories behind them that become the real focus. Built on bitter-sweet nostalgia for America's past, they're populated by steelworkers, rabble-rousers and underdogs of all kinds. Channelling down-home friendliness and shades of Janis Joplin, Heartwood is a fine and engaging storyteller. Quickly winning over the crowd, she soon has the audience singing along, and leaves them pondering those seldom told tales." 3/5
theSpace @ Surgeon's Hall, until 23 Aug. [Dave Fargnoli]
BROADWAY BABY August 14, 2014
"Short Stories – True Song Tales from the American Edge
by Dave House on 14th August 2014
Short Stories - True Song Tales from the American Edge is an acoustic solo show from Kiya Heartwood, an award-winning American singer-songwriter. Her songs are based in American folk tradition and tell the stories of some of America’s famous (and not so famous) legends. Within her repertoire are songs about the real Calamity Jane, the last of the great American race horses and a cross dressing confederate. Heartwood’s songs are easy listening, with a beautiful country quality that transports you to America’s folk lands.
Her songs have a personal and heartfelt quality, injected with a good amount of humour and sentiment.
Heartwood’s career in the States has spanned nearly thirty years. She was the lead singer and songwriter in the folk rock band Stealin’ Horses and was one half of the folk duo Wishing Chair. She is now pursuing a solo career, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time.
Heartwood has an endearing personality and she does a good job of bringing her audience into the songs, talking about the history that surrounds each one and getting the audience to sing along. She begins with The Ballad of the Pralltown Café and soon gets the audience joining in on the chorus. Following songs include Calamity Jane; the fantastic country song, Sue Mundy, about the cross dressing confederate; and the lively Higher Ground. While she doesn’t quite reach the raw power of some of the more renowned great folk and country singers, her songs have a personal and heartfelt quality, injected with a good amount of humour and sentiment. These are songs about America’s rich history and the real enjoyment that you get from listening to them is their ability take you into times and places long gone.
Fans of storytelling, American history and folk and country music should get a lot of pleasure from Heartwood’s modest solo set."
By Dave House DaveHouse86
FEST MAGAZINE August 9th, 2014
"The Edge, here, is a more marginal America that isn’t always a winner - made up of ordinary people, fighting or escaping the country’s relentless narrative of capitalism, cheap labour and globalisation. Kiya Heartwood is an acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter from oddball oasis, Austin, Texas; but she sings tales of underdogs from all over, with a distinctly American, soulful sincerity.
Her opener trots through the story of Man o’War, the 1920s racehorse extraordinaire. Eulogising his impressive strength—he could carry 138 pounds, helpfully translated for British laymen as both 10 stone, and an awful lot for a horse—Heartwood also uses him as a symbol for an America that’s been lost. Poignantly, she sings of stables and fields replaced by cookie-cutter houses in the neverending race to suburban sprawl.
Mother Jones is no less fearsome or loved – a black-clad widow who stirred up workers to strike for fair pay. Heartwood’s husky, wistful voice strengthens to a guttural call to arms for the “dishpan brigade” of women who fended off blackleggers with household weapons. She also stretches to naive, gutsy blues—“I built my house on a burial ground/Ghosts and spirits were all around”—and a softer, subtle memoir of growing up a tomboy in her brother’s shadow.
Heartwood describes herself as shy, but she’s clearly capable of wrestling an audience tens of times this tiny size into foot-stamping, chorus-joining submission. A soulless Edinburgh black box space might not be the best place to cosy up to her distinctive, atmospheric songs, but she’s a seasoned enough performer to light up any room with flickering, folksy warmth."
Music Review: Kiya Heartwood - Bold Swimmer
By Richard Marcus, BLOGCRITICS.ORG
Published 2:55 pm, Thursday, February 16, 2012
I don't know about anyone else but I've always resented people telling me I should listen to, or even worse like, a certain performer because of
who they are or what they sing about. Just because somebody agrees with me politically has no bearing on their abilities as a musician or the
quality of the songs they write. Some of the worst tripe I've ever heard being passed off as music has issued from some of these so-called
important singer-songwriters. Giving someone a good review just because of their politics, gender, or skin colour is as biased and unethical as
giving them a bad review for the same reason.
I might take things like the conditions under which a recording was made into account when reviewing a disc, but making what a person is
more important than what they can do is not somewhere I'm ever going to go. In the 1980s and 1990s I knew people who would tell me it was
my duty to like certain, more-often-than-not women, performers because it was a way of showing solidarity with the people you supported
politically. There were a couple of them whom I actually liked; Ferron and Holly Near are still names I remember fondly (that doesn't mean
either of these women are dead or have stopped performing, it just means I've not heard anything they've done recently). The rest of them
were all so busy competing for the "more earnest than thou" prize they forgot that music should be an expression of the soul first and foremost
and everything else is secondary. Your content can be as politically progressive as Che, but if you don't sound like you're putting your heart into
it, who cares.
Six years ago I reviewed a disc by the folk duo Wishing Chair and was impressed by both their musical abilities and their songwriting skills. So
when somebody contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing a solo recording by one of the two women in the group I said yes. It
turns out Kiya Heartwood is just as good a solo performer as she is when working in a duo. Her new release, Bold Swimmer, is a great
collection of material that ranges stylistically from rocking blues to what I'd call country, but most would probably call folk.
In spite of the success of people like Bonnie Raitt there's still a lot of macho bullshit attached to the playing of electric blues and rock and roll.
I'd long ago become sick and tired of guitar players obviously in serious need of therapy regarding issues of inadequacy, and never bought into
the "chicks are only good for two types of banging - tambourines and me" attitude that still seems to predominate rock and roll.
Unfortunately that attitude is so ingrained that even today the majority of woman performers in the mainstream of music aren't going to be
laying down hot guitar leads while fronting a band. All of which means releases like this one aren't going to get the attention they deserve. If it
were only the consumers who were losing out I'd just say "Your loss, suckers," but unfortunately it also means Heartwood, and probably
countless other woman performers, aren't receiving the attention they deserve.
One of the first things you'll notice about this disc that distinguishes it from most other recordings of this kind is that there aren't any songs
about a lover treating the singer badly on it. I don't know what it is about blues-based rock that makes people think they have to write about
being cheated on all the time. If I never hear another he/she broke my heart tune it will be too soon. Can it be so hard for people to think of
anything else to sing about? There are eleven tracks on Bold Swimmer and not one of them qualifies as a he/she done me wrong song. Even
the love song, "I Love You," is just a nice and simple tune speaking directly to the subject of why the singer loves her partner without undue
sentimentality or any of the histrionics one normally associates with love songs by both male and female singers.
I don't know if "Cross The Line" is quite what others would call a love song, as it's a raunchy blues number singing the praises of going that one
step further than PG relationships normally go, but it and the song right after it, "Take Me," are the only other songs on the disc that come
close to qualifying. The other thing separating these two tracks from the type of love song you normally hear from woman singers is that
there's not a single note of pleading with some guy for acceptance. No promises to love somebody, faults and all, or any of the other
conciliatory statements women are expected to make in order to obtain true love in popular culture.
While these tracks are good, and in fact there's not really a weak number on the disc, two tracks that really stand out are "Change (is gonna
come)" and "Lights Of Austin." In the case of the former the lyrics were the primary attraction, while in the latter it was the overall sound that
captured my attention. Too many political songs are nothing more than self-righteous rants by people feeling guilty for making a killing in
record sales and box office receipts. It's rare to hear someone take the time and effort to analyze their own reactions to events in the world.
In "Change" Heartwood sings about how anger and frustration aren't the answer and are self-defeating if we want change. Sure there are lots
of reasons to be angry, and she lists quite a few of them, but in the long run we only hurt ourselves and those who need our help with anger.
Real change can only be accomplished with hope for something better. This doesn't mean we should just sit back and hope things get better,
but we need to find a way to effect change without anger being our motivating force. It's a powerful message that needs to be heard more
often, one that offers an antidote to the rhetoric of hate you usually hear from political types of all stripes in this day and age.
"Lights Of Austin" shows Heartwood is more than just your typical folk rock performer. Musically it might fall into that catch-all category of
"Americana" or "roots," but those labels don't seem to do justice to the song's emotional depth. With its simple acoustic guitar introduction
gradually being embellished by the other instruments, she sings about the importance of following your dreams, whatever they may be, as far
as possible. It's a topic that's ripe for being turned into sentimental tripe, but Heartwood avoids any of the musical and lyrical cliches that you'd
normally find in this type of material. There are no swelling strings or crescendos of any sort, just a good simple song a g about living a life which generates stories that can be told long into the future.
Heartwood's singing voice is ideally suited to the type of material she's chosen to create. Its roughness suits both the bolder rock and roll/blues
numbers and the slower country/folk tunes. With the former there's the power needed to sound convincing without having to strain and sound
like she's working too hard, while with the latter it gives the material the extra little edge of authenticity required to make them credible.
Combine this with her abilities as a songwriter and composer and you have an album of music that is more than just a cut above what you'd
normally hear these days from a solo female performer. You have something that's good no matter who wrote or performed it.
Don't listen to this disc because it's something you feel like you should do, like pretending you enjoy eating something because it's good for you;
listen to it because it's a damn good album. Pleasures don't always have to make you feel guilty, and just because something's good for you
doesn't necessarily mean it tastes bad. Kyra Heartwood's latest recording is proof positive that you can be nourished by music and enjoy it too
The most difficult thing about writing this review was concentrating on the writing of the review. Kiya Heartwood draws you into the music, heart, mind, and soul. So I frequently found myself lost in the music with an empty page glaring back at me. Of course my old hippie self was and is overjoyed at "Bold Swimmer" and all that Kiya brings to the listening enjoyment. However the reviewer side was stuck on simple reactions like; "wonderful", bravo" "beautiful!" and the ever-present hit the replay button! Truly unique, and in some soothing ways reminiscent of names like Heart and Bonnie Raitt. In other words an awesome talent! Kiya Heartwood is one half of the award winning duo Wishing Chair. Kiya's stand alone strength is equally inspiring.
Eleven tracks strong this is a full flavored and all delivering showcase of the power of Heartwood's talent. A folk based rocking blues musical trip which leaves you wanting more. Much more. Ten of the songs are pure Kiya Heartwood words and music. That is indeed a very good thing. However, just as mesmerizing is Heartwood's cover of the Bricusse/Newly classic "Feeling Good". There is no lesser standing to any portion of "Bold Swimmer". Production is flawless. Instrumentation and accompaniment is perfect. Lyrics are pertinent, timeless, and touching. Kiya takes you from toe-tapping indulgence to out of your chair and moving, in seamless sweeps of musical passion. The album title comes from Walt Whitman's "Song Of Myself Part 46" and in that tells you right away this is a thinking music lover's CD.
Beginning with the title track, "Bold Swimmer" Heartwood delivers more than this listener imagined. By the end of the title song I was drawn in, totally at ease, and lost in Heartwood's talent. "Bold Swimmer" is catchy yet not overly commercial in style. Immediately I found myself humming along and in a pure state of enjoyment. Transitions from song to song are natural. No rough bumps or suddenly endings. Heartwood is smooth and wraps your senses with pleasant imagery, soul soothing melodies, and lyrical prowess. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite form "Bold Swimmer".
Stand outs for me would be obviously more than one song. "Change (Is Gonna Come) however warmed this activist's heart. Yet was more inspiring than emotionally charging. No angst ridden protest songs here. Real lyrics about our times and reactions of the heart and soul, not marching music. "I Love You" a pure love song but not a 'done me wrong' song. Refreshing in that Heartwood talks of loving, and not the frequently heard he/she broke my heart type. That same positive and touching approach is constant throughout the entire CD which is "Bold Swimmer". "Cross The Line" more about taking it to the next level, than what you would expect from the title. Is a steamy bluesy piece which for me passed the threshold of classics like "Black Velvet". In "Lights Of Austin" Kiya combines the power of musical symmetry with lyrics which encircle you with welcoming visuals. Beguiling and familiar, this song quickly imbeds itself in your psyche and you are very happy with that reaction. The closing track, and only non-Heartwood written song, "Feeling Good" is a completely unique take on a timeless classic. Leaving you satisfied and yet with a strong yearning for more.
All in all that, "yearning for more" feeling is the strongest reaction with which I can best describe the overall experience of "Bold Swimmer". Obviously my compulsion to hit the replay button won many times. Even while writing this review Kiya Heartwood's "Bold Swimmer" is playing and inspiring. And continues to do so in my mind. My sincere hope is that Kiya Heartwood and "Bold Swimmer" garner the attention and reception deserved. I cannot imagine why it would not. Although in the genre sadly women are sometimes overlooked and not granted the acclamation and respect deserved. Heartwood's talent however demands that same acclimation and respect.