MARY MCGINNISS : "RED TAILS AND THE ROAD" ALBUM REVIEW ( Robert Resnik - Seven Days 9/29/10) On her second album, Burlington songwriter Mary McGinniss follows up her 2005 solo debut, "Places in Between", with a series of loving tune poems written for family, friends, lovers and her hometown. Red Tails and the Road also documents McGinniss’ first collaboration with central Vermont recording engineer and multi-instrumentalist Kristina Stykos. On many of the albums she has engineered in the past few years — Bow Thayer’s "Shooting Arrows at the Moon", Brian Clark’s "Solo Duo Trio" and her own "In the Earth’s Fading Light" — Stykos has produced unadorned acoustic music that shows off the heart and the soul of the vocalists and their instruments. In the case of Mary McGinniss, that’s a great thing, because she has a rich singing voice, provides her own harmony, and accompanies herself on guitar and ukulele throughout Red Tails. Her playing is understated but solid. In other words, just enough to keep our attention on what’s most important: her insightful songwriting and luscious vocals. On these songs, McGinniss writes about growing up in Burlington and other events and relationships that have shaped her life. There are songs about the pain of saying goodbye to parents, lovey lullabies for grandchildren, sweet love songs and even a song that asks, “Jesus Christ, what were you thinking?” Nine of the 12 selections on this disc are originals, two are jazz standards with uke accompaniment, and one is a composition by James McGinniss, Mary’s brother and a talented songwriter himself. "Red Tails and the Road" is easy to listen to, but it certainly isn’t “easy listening.” McGinniss’ gently delivered words really count — the sentiments expressed have an iron core. Mary McGinniss has been performing a series of CD-release house concerts in the area, and she sounds just as good in person as she does on this disc.
THAYER CD TURNS SONGS INTO GREAT CHEMISTRY (Spencer Lewis - The Randolph Herald 1/28/10) Bow Thayer’s latest CD, “Shooting Arrows at the Moon,” is a major achievement for this Stockbridge singer-songwriter. Thayer already has six or more CDs in the can, some with his bluegrass/rock group, The Benders, and three solo/full rock band efforts on local entrepreneur Steve Farrington’s Crooked Root Records label. Yet this one is different from all the others because of one reason: producer Kristina Stykos from Pepperbox Studios and Thunder Ridge Records over in Chelsea. A top-notch producer/engineer like Stykos will mold a project in the musical image of choice in addition to pressing the record button. They decide who plays what, when, and where it resides within the musical spectrum we call stereo. In some cases, that producer might also contribute to the project, as Kristina herself is a fine mandolin player, guitarist and singer. Finally, when that musician/producer/engineer understands the music in the truest sense, the results can be smoking hot. The lineup here is a simple one: Bow on guitar, banjo and vocals, Kristina on guitar and Central Vermonter Patrick Ross on fiddle. The idea was to get the guts of Bow’s incredible songs, putting his lyrics front and center while adding just the right touch of instruments to frame them. Kristina’s formula succeeds brilliantly. For instance, on the song “Harpoon” she sings word for word with Bow and her haunting voice reinforces the directness of his confessional lyrics: “There’s a dark coalition, A ghost on a mission, I foresee a big collision, I guess the gods have all gone fishin’.” And the refrain: “Will we wise up, as we dumb us down? I’m countin’ on your good luck, I wish you were here now.” Bow’s voice rises out of mountain modal darkness in “Catskill Stone” or calls on the heavens for a final benediction in “Waltzing on the Wayside”: “I’m going to get down on my knees like I got no choice And sing Hallelujah in a Tom Waits voice.” Throughout “Arrows” stories abound, telling of loss, anger, gratitude or just gettin’ through the absurdity of life with as much cantankerous grace as possible. The title track breathes textures of acoustic sensuality and mirrors Bow’s serendipitous lyrics. I can only marvel at how this CD can transfer that imagery in musical terms on this and literally every other song. There is even an all- instrumental track, “Crooked Blaze” that celebrates the successful chemistry between these three fine players and further highlights the shimmering soundscape Stykos has created in the studio. The fiddle pushes in the right spots, the banjo cuts like a knife, and fine guitars glisten on the edges or drive the rhythm hard. Bow knows when to scream and he knows when to plead; he can drive a song like an 18-wheeler going through a mud hole or coax it like a feather tickling a baby’s ear. He’s a songwriter with something to say, and if God has not gone fishing this CD will have legs to take him far beyond these hills and hollers where it can be heard by all.
BOW THAYER: AT HIS INTIMATE BEST - CD REVIEW (Art Edelstein Arts Correspondent - Times Argus 11/13/09) Rochester-based Bow Thayer has released one of the best CDs I've heard this year. "Shooting Arrows at the Moon" is all acoustic, low-key, informal and laced with excellent songs and fine picking. With Thayer writing all 14 tracks, singing and playing guitar, banjo and uke, we have his best work to date. That said, a lot of the credit for the success of this album goes to its producer/engineer/backup singer and multi-instrumentalist Kristina Stykos. Thayer's own words make it clear why this CD is so good. As he writes in an introduction to the album on his Web site (, "I can honestly say this project just happened out of the blue here in Vermont at my friend Kristina Stykos' Pepperbox Studio. "What excites me about this record is the spontaneous informality of it all. There was no real intention or pressure to produce an album so what we have is some music that had been written then abandoned and songs that were recorded in their infancy." This is how recordings should be made. As too many musicians learn from sad experience, when the pressure is on, when studio time is expensive, and they are perhaps reaching beyond their comfort level, the result may not be quite what they or their audience expect. Thayer's previous albums reviewed here, "Driftwood Periodicals, Volume I" and "Spend It All," were studio affairs with a full band. I thought Thayer's material had promise but was lost in the clash of guitars, drums and overproduction. His new album shows that, taken down a notch or two and given a relaxed atmosphere to record in, his promise and expertise shine through. His songwriting here is mature while his guitar and banjo work carry a strong pulse. And his singing is emotive. I'm reminded of the 1970s recordings by Bob Dylan and also early John Prine on several tracks. Thayer writes good story songs. Especially effective are "The Tango Rose," "Suicide Kings," "Carla Dupree," "Allston Brighton" and "Way of The Gun." He builds characters that are believable and story lines that any novelist would appreciate. While not a crooner, Thayer's gritty vocals are effective. The music on this album has overtones of contemporary folk, acoustic country and neo-bluegrass. It's an ear-friendly sound as well, owing to the lack of electric instruments and percussion. Stykos has captured Thayer's guitar and banjo perfectly maintaining the authentic sound of these acoustic instruments. Her own contribution includes harmony singing and guitar, mandolin and bouzouki accompaniment. Her vocals work well to support Thayer, as she is an alto. Her singing doesn't outshine Thayer's voice. Violinist Patrick Ross joins Thayer and Stykos but on just eight of the 14 tracks. I would have liked to hear more of this fine musician. This is not fiddling, rather, it's atmospheric violin, and I'm reminded of the work Scarlet Rivera did on an earlier Bob Dylan album. With just a few instruments to work with and two voices plus some excellent songs, Thayer, with Stykos and Ross' help, has produced his most thoughtful and mature work yet. While Thayer works primarily with his band Perfect Trainwreck, I hope he'll do more solos and feature the songs on "Shooting Arrows at the Moon." This is the album that will advance his career beyond the barroom dance floor.
STYKOS' IN THE EARTH'S FADING LIGHT COULD BE THE BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR (Art Edelstein Arts Correspondent - Times Argus 10/28/05) Stykos' 'In the Earth's Fading Light' could be the best album this year If Kristina Stykos' new album "In the Earth's Fading Light" was on vinyl I'd have already worn it out. Luckily, it's a compact disk and should be good for a long time to come. Ever since I received a copy over a month ago it has been spinning in my car's CD player. "Fading Light" is perhaps the best new album I have heard this year by anyone, and I'm a heavy consumer of music. Bruce Springsteen may have gotten all the hype for his latest effort "Devils and Dust," but for my money Stykos has written far better songs, delivered them with wonderful style, and can play the pants off of the King of Asbury Park. What is surprising about this album is that it is the work of a full-time mother of three who says her main occupation is landscaping. Stykos' name is anything but household, and she says she's not looking for a career in music. But I hope this review will encourage her to hit the road and bring her music to a much wider audience than Vermont can offer. Stykos, who lives in Chelsea, has fashioned a guitar-based album of heartfelt songs and interesting instrumentals with Celtic and European overtones that are mature in content and composition. Her guitar playing, is confident, extremely well executed, and very engaging. The musicians who accompany her on most tracks in this 16-song album play with inspiration, and the caring they must feel for Stykos is palpable. Now, here's the kicker. Stykos, who had released one poorly received vinyl album 16 years ago, did all the recording and production herself in her living room. This is an album that sounds so good that anyone not reading the liner notes would figure she used $10,000 microphones and hired the best studio that many thousands of dollars could buy. The lesson here is that good equipment goes only so far. What's really needed to produce a top-notch compact disk is excellent material, excellently performed. Driving this CD is Stykos' guitar playing and her voice. The guitars are for the most part Froggy Bottoms, made in Newfane by her husband Michael Millard. This luthier must have truly been inspired by his marriage because these guitars sound gorgeous. Also, Stykos uses a very unusual tuning, one popularized by guitarist Ged Foley in the Irish band Patrick Street. "Open" or "alternate" tunings are the rage these days with acoustic guitarists, as they give a deep resonance to notes and chords. Stykos has made this particular tuning her own, and in rhythmic and melodic passages is able to get her guitar to be the dominant, but not dominating, instrument. She weaves in many guitar parts throughout so her instrument never sounds "canned" and predictable. She also plays mandolin and keyboard. Her co-bandmates in the popular central Vermont group Bellatrix, Patty Casey and Susannah Blachley, contribute flute and viola and violin, respectively. Banjoist Bela Fleck, an early boyfriend of Stykos, joins on a few tracks along with ace piano accordianist Jeremiah McLane. Another important instrument on this album is Stykos' voice. I wouldn't call her singing "pretty." Rather, she sings sometimes with a bit of a rasp, other times with a smokey quality to her voice like good bourbon going down smoothly. On occasion, she sounds as if she's just drunk a glass of the purest mineral water: pristine. Each of the nine vocals has an interesting subject and lyrics. At age 47, this former live art music promoter who brought many fine folk acts to the Barre Opera House and the Wood Art Gallery, has had many relationships, met scores of interesting people and raised a family: all these experiences come out in her songs. I particularly like the lines in the title track "In The Earth's Fading Light": "It's a matter of life/in the beak of a dove/It's a fountain of stars/Releasing their love/In the cascading light, I see you." Stykos is also reflects on her previous loves. In "The Delaware Side" she writes: "It's not hard to explain/It's just hard to feel this pain/I was young, I was unafraid/Drawn like a moth to the flame." My favorite lyric on this album is "Song To My Children." She offers this advice: "Children be wise, be strong, be driven/Open your eyes to what is hidden/Offer your tears like rain from heaven/Open your heart to what is given." In an interview, she said she began writing songs for this album a year ago. "I've been raising kids. …I kept writing music, but was not recording any of it and playing in my kitchen by myself," she said. She said she owes a debt of gratitude to local Montpelier musicians, who play informally each week, for getting her back into music and teaching her what was required of a rhythm guitarist. "It was pivotal. I started to learn how to do a whole new kind of guitar playing — rhythm, accompaniment to fiddle tunes, Old Time and Celtic music. I wasn't in the spotlight, a singer songwriter. I was just part of the mix and it was a lot of fun." She said she wrote 14 songs in a few months and started recording last January. She recorded on a home digital recording machine. "It was more important for me to stay at home and do it at my own pace then in a recording studio with expensive equipment," she said of the experience. "That meant I had to learn how to run the equipment, which was a huge learning curve," she said. She did get help with mixing and editing from Corin Nelsen, who works with Will Ackerman the famed guitarist who once owned Windham Hill Records and now lives in southern Vermont. With such a fine sophomore album under her belt, Stykos has modest goals. She said she has no real plans to hit the folk music circuit to promote her album. "I would just like it to reach people whose hearts are looking for some inspiration," she said. "My goal is not to climb the ladder of singer/songwriter, but to play music and have fun."

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