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Kristina Stykos is an established name in the industry, with a reputation as a solid recording engineer, producer, and singer-songwriter. Her latest release, River of Light, was recorded in her very own Pepperbox Studio—an off-the-grid setup powered by renewables like solar and wind energy. Musically, this record remains rooted in classic country flair, but branches into deep balladry with striking lyrics and timbres.
“Luckily humanity will come together as tributaries do, when it rains hard enough and each twisted stream straightens out its path with unerring focus. That’s right. It’s time, for we are the River of Light.” — Kristina Stykos
Above all, it’s a contemplative record requiring careful listening, not something to be stuck on in the background. Many songs feature spoken word performances over the music. Her poetic turns of phrase are mysterious, insightful, and thought-provoking. One reason for this poetic approach is a 2017 diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia, a disease that limits singing, if not making it impossible to do so. Stykos evidently faced her demons head on, producing a work that fits her capacities without compromising on artistic quality.
With restrained, tasteful guitar solos and lyrics about the passage of time, album opener, ‘State Line Diner’ is a knockout. There’s almost a Heartbreakers quality to it. ‘I Like A Hard Hearted Man’ is a straightforward acoustic number with a 12 bar blues basis, full of slick licks and runs in the vein of B.B. King.
Powerful imagery regarding rural hardship defines the title track. Stykos explores small lives and worlds in a way that’s respectful, endearing, and melancholic. Songs like ‘Since You Asked’ and ‘At the Edge’ discuss heartache and broken dreams, but the theme of redemption permeates throughout. Towards the end, the album tracks a redemptive arc with ‘Blessed Light’, ‘Climb This Ground’, and ‘Rivers of Light’. Even more impressive than the lyrics are the performances—each track is dripping with sincerity and patiently worked fluidity.
Fans of Kristina Stykos can rest assured she’s carrying on as before. This is music that’s impactful, heavy, and plain beautiful. Though there are minor production hiccups at points, it’s a stellar release overall.