Kristina Morland’s Pidgin Music 

By Ken Shimamoto 

Kristina Morland started writing songs as a wee lass and multi-tracking them on her brother’s tape recorder, but she didn’t start performing them publicly until relatively recently. Folks in the know soon took notice of her unique vocal stylings and songwriting knack, and collaborations ensued with local usual suspects like fret magician Darrin Kobetich (in “the Fort” at fonky Fred’s), ex-Fort Worth Symphony violinist Steve Huber (a regular gig at Eurotazza on Camp Bowie), and fellow singer-songwriter Clint Niosi (including an appearance on his CD The Sound of Dead Horses Beating Against Cold Shoulders). She emerges on this incandescent little debut disc as a fully formed talent with a distinctive voice (in the literary sense). 

From the nursery rhyme blues of “Razor Wire,” you can tell there’s more going on here than the usual confessional singer-songwriter shtick; underneath their delicate veneer, Morland’s songs are strong as steel. When she comes back from the baroque instrumental break in “Calculated Reckoning” with the lines, “Maybe in heaven I won’t need these eyes / That yearn in the darkness and burn in the light,” you’ll sit up and take notice, if you have the capacity to be affected by such word play. Morland writes haunting melodies with surprising intervallic contours and sings them in a bruised waif’s voice just this side of breaking, like a modern-day Melanie Safka. Her music’s mostly melancholic, but songs like the hymn-like “Birds” (“Move so slowly, so as not to scare the birds”) and the forbidden-love saga “Taboo” (“Tell me what it’s like to be you, ‘cause I am something else”) have a sweet, guileless charm. Best moment here is “Echo Charting,” which surrounds the listener like a warm blanket (“The language that they speak with their faces / They’re only people and places”). 

Morland’s songcraft and vocalismo are both well served by the intimacy of the recording here, mostly done by Matt Hansen. Like Niosi’s The Sound of Dead Horses, Pidgin Music features unusual instrumentation (often provided by utility muso Matt Tolentino) and production touches – the toy piano and tuba on opener “Razor Wire,” the handclaps on “Birds,” the double-tracked vocals and accordion on “Day Dream,” the glockenspiel and clarinet on “Breathing,” the vinyl static on “Silence,” Steve Huber and Marian Brackney’s string arrangements – that give its sound a dream-like, timeless quality. An engaging listen.