Three the Hard Way

by Krystle Warren

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about

Kansas City-born, Paris-based songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and powerhouse vocalist Krystle Warren’s Three the Hard Way is an elegantly bare testament to the complex resonances of Black music and to the traditions of incisive commentary and spiritual seeking that have often walked with them. These are songs of earth and soul, of poetic protest and potent grooves.

Warren speaks boldly, going far beyond glib pop posturing on civil rights, empowerment, and personal commitment. She witnesses an apocalypse of brutal revelation, the depth of injustice, and anxiety smothered in the slick surface of today’s words and deeds. The deep past underpins and warps the frenetic present, when Biblical devotion becomes a hot love affair (“Nae-Nae and Ruthie,” a blues-inflected reframing of the Old Testament story) and when questions of faith and doubt (“I Hope He Comes Back”) resolve in the eternity of a single tree, toughing it out in the middle of a city (“Learn to Bend”).

For Warren, this was familiar territory, yet she had never worked so explicitly with these musical influences in her earlier, singer-songwriter work, music that caught the ear of Rufus Wainwright. (Warren toured with Wainwright’s band and opened for him.) “When [longtime friend and Grammy Award winning producer, engineer Ben] Kane and I began talking about this project, I immediately started thinking gospel,” a sound that bursts through tracks like “Move!” “I grew up Southern Baptist, with an incredible choir at church. I started listening to old recordings of various gospel choirs... I began learning the language again. It’s always been a part of me.”

Warren and Kane (D’Angelo, Emily King, PJ Morton) worked in dialog to find just the right sound. “It was very clear that this would be the album to do together,” Warren notes. “We pared it down to two minds, navigating through and figuring out what we wanted to say.”

The instrumental voices speak in a language taut and lean. Gospel, early R&B, and raw blues couple with the lush intelligence of artists like Nina Simone and Pharoah Sanders. They form the bedrock for Warren’s sometime provocative, sometimes tender commentary on injustice’s persistence, religious estrangement, and profound relationship. “Historically, the blues and the black church have provided soulful responses to suffering and oppression,” Kane says. “Krystle is using this musical language to reflect on our modern-day pain and madness.”

As Warren and Kane explored this language, they started with “Thanks and Praise,” where tight bass and guitar bounce beneath layer upon layer of Warren’s rich, sinuous voice. “That was the starting point,” adds Kane. “The song really tilted the direction of where we could go with this album. It’s an important departure from that folk world Krystle has been exploring for the majority of her career.”

With Kane as a sounding board, Warren was encouraged to move into new places, playing bass, drums, lap steel, piano, guitar, and vocals directly to analog tape. She and Kane recorded in Villetaneuse, France, a small town on the outskirts of Paris in a vintage 70s era studio that offered just the right, rich sound to suggest the musical foundation for the record, and to do justice to the duo’s carefully balanced arrangements.

Some of these arrangements open up into ecstatic choruses and irresistible grooves. Some stay stark, startling. Take “Red Clay,” Warren’s shiver-inducing homage to those who suffered one of America’s most shameful eruptions of racial hatred, the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, also known as the Massacre of Black Wall Street, in which a prosperous Black community came under merciless attack.

“I started thinking about those early gospel songs. In deciding to play with the minimal sound of a simple guitar and voices - very work song, early gospel, I knew that the subject had to match it,” explains Warren. “The massacre in Tulsa is something that a lot of people aren't aware of. I felt it was time to write a song about this awful thing that had happened, to write from the perspective of someone who had lived it, endured it.”

Gospel’s abiding devotion to the elevated moments, the cornerstone of the spirit, also resounds in Warren’s songs, but not without wry questions. “I’m not passing judgement, though I myself have doubts and concerns when it comes to organized religion,” Warren muses. “I wanted to start a conversation about spirituality. To loosen the binds of organized religion and flip some ideas on their heads. Essentially, I wanted to challenge, without being too rough. It may be a shove, but it’s a loving shove. “

credits

released August 18, 2017

Produced by Krystle Warren and Ben Kane
Recorded, engineered, and mixed by Ben Kane
Written and performed by Krystle Warren, except where noted
Assistant engineer, tape operator: Manuel Aragon
Assistant mixing engineer: Jackie Sanchez
Technical services provided by Ricky Begin
Mixed at The Garden, Brooklyn
Mastered and cut by Alex DeTurk at Masterdisk
Album cover art: Kyra Termini

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Track Name: So We Say
When it goes tits up
and cars are abandoned
scattered on highways
doors are wide open
Ah

Everything
everything will be

The swell of the ocean
abstains from the shore
and keeps pulling back
exposing the body

Everything
everything will
Everything will be

O​h, now it's peaches
peaches and cream it's
it's just the way it's been told to be.
So we say we'll be alright
People rise and fall in pieces but that's the price for being free.
So we say we'll be alright
The finger on the trigger can't see the future: it always pulls back toward the past..
Everything will be alright -- "I..can't..breathe..."
..and threatens to cease my constitution!

When it goes tits up
and cars are abandoned
scattered on highways
doors are wide open
Ah

Everything
everything will
Everything
everything will be
Track Name: Nae-Nae and Ruthie
Don't tell me to leave you, whatever you do - believe me, I know where I belong
I'm going where you're going, however the road
'cause I don't wanna go it alone

Take me to The Rock
Lead me in The Light
Take me to The Rock
Lead me in The Light

Ten years come, ten years gone - think of everything we've been through
May the lord condemn me so severely... Still, I'm clinging to You

Take me to The Rock
Lead me in The Light
Take me to The Rock
Lead me in The Light

Don't tell me to leave you, whatever you do - I know where I belong
I'm going where you're going, however the road
'cause I don't wanna go it alone
Track Name: If Memory Serves Me Well
Jadis, si je me souviens bien…
Jadis, si je me souviens...
Jadis, si je me souviens bien...
Jadis, si je me souviens...

For a good while I'd been dreaming
woke up in a French film
stumbled home over cobblestones with her, or him
Let's talk about it
Heart, alive in whimsy
head, aware, just barely
Daddy couldn't help me, 'didn't know where I was
Lauded as the new "soul diva"
Chapman mixed with some other black chick
Here's the thing: I've never owned a record of hers
No disrespect, she just isn't my shit

Sis said, "Sing for Jesus, whatever you do."
Forgive me.

Jadis, si je me souviens bien...
Jadis, si je me souviens...
Track Name: Thanks and Praise
'Been sometime since I've
said to Thee
how I love You
how I'm grateful
Here I am
I've come to praise Thee
for Your certainty where I was doubtful
In this world of rising waters
so heavy, so dark, and deep
Comfort is found in what You mean to me

I was lost
I was wandering
came so far
to be all alone
but You found me
told me it's gonna be alright
took me in Your arms
where I found home

In this world of rising waters
so heavy, so dark, and deep
Comfort is found in what You mean to me
Bless this little lamb now at your feet
in a world so dark and deep
Comfort is found in what you mean to me
Track Name: Red Clay
How many souls
how many souls
how many souls did they leave on the ground
face down
in the wet red clay?
In the wet red clay...
Three to a grave
three to a grave
three to four men stacked in a jagged box
four to one
in the wet red clay
in the wet red clay
Heavenly Father
Heavenly Father
Heavenly Father...
look what they do to me...
The devil in sight
the devil in sight
the devil in sight, without its sheet
took aim, shot every soul on the street
and it took to the sky, lowered bombs to defeat
the innocence of Greenwood Street
made it fall to ground
on an evening in May
in the wet red clay
in the wet red clay
Track Name: Get a Load
We were late
the sun was sleeping
How'd it pass without photo proof?
Hours frayed as we went further
staring down the avenue

No one's perfect
Nobody's Jesus
and just look what they did to him
Flesh and bone are weak enough
Lean in close
get a load of this

Things fall down
people look up
and when it rains it pours
Here with you
holding this feeling
Sharing pride from banging on those doors

Soft blows, nothing of consequence
It's a dead day, but it won't lie down
Who said you have to go it alone?
Lean in close, get a load of this
Track Name: Learn To Bend
Mind if I join you?
Hide from the city’s view
Losing the hours
As they found you

How many others
Came with their questions, prosed?
Rooted in silence
Reaching still

Here I tell secrets
Whispered between the leaves
Nestled within them
Thick as thieves

Leaning against you
Trace where your scars meet mine
Warm in the wounding
Sharing breadth

How have you stood here?
How did you stake your claim?
Still stretching skyward
As it falls

Maybe you chose to
gather the weight of stones
dug in your heels
and learned to bend
Track Name: Move!
Move!
Move!
Move out, make way!
Move!
Move!
Move out, make way!
Move!
Move!
Move out, make way!
Move out, make way for the new ellipsis!

Half of the people are stoned and the other half are waiting on the next election!
Half of the people are drowning and the other half are swimming in the wrong direction!

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