On the Road Again
After a decade of working to make a name for herself in the heart of the Denver music scene, local folk-country artist Celeste Krenz is heading for the bright lights of Nashville.
But unlike all of those starry-eyed girls with guitars boarding Tennessee-bound Greyhound coaches, Krenz has no misbegotten hopes of becoming the next Shania Twain. Instead, for a performer who's established a successful niche for herself at home with a poignant yet upbeat turn on the singer-songwriter routine, the exodus to the country music capital is merely a matter of building on an already thriving career. It's also a family affair, with Krenz's husband, producer and musician Bob Tyler, and their eight-month-old baby going along for the ride, making things all the more matter-of-fact for the musical couple.
Even with the moving truck ready to arrive at the end of April, Krenz hasn't rolled out plans for a local farewell tour quite yet. Instead, she's continuing to promote her most recent recording, Celeste, with a series of Colorado performances (including a CD-release party at the Gothic Theatre on February 9) that precede several weeks traversing the West Coast as an opening act for country artist Jo Dee Messina. And as it has been for the past half-decade, Krenz is confident that her many Front Range fans and friends will be there to help her enjoy the days until she and her family hit the highway.
"Part of the reason that we're packing up and moving at the end of April is that, personally, we felt like we needed a change. Nashville will also mean that we'll be closer to tour the East Coast, and the record's already doing pretty well out there," she says. Krenz says she's anticipating the opportunity to cultivate a larger national audience, although her local shows are nearly always sold-out affairs, like last month's date at the Boulder Theater with Mollie O'Brien, Hazel Miller and Marie Beer.
Krenz's newest CD, recorded at Denver's Capital t Studios, was released nationally last June through Blix Street Records, an L.A.-based independent better known as the American home of such UK Celtic stars as Mary Black, Dougie MacLean and the late Eva Cassidy. The label's profile (and distribution through Rykodisc) has helped give the smoothly polished collection of folk-country songs some added oomph, resulting in significant airplay across the country and in Canada and giving Krenz a bit more incentive to base herself closer to the bigwigs on Music Row.
"We had been talking to Curb Records a year before we did this record, and they had a bunch of my songs on hold...but over the course of the year, we decided not to do the deal," Krenz says. "In the interim, I had recorded Wishin', a little album of folk songs that I'd always wanted to put together. That's the record that got the attention of [someone from] Blix Street. He loved Wishin', but it was never really officially released anywhere but Denver, so we took a few songs from it and added some new material to make the new CD."
Krenz said she consciously decided to let her own songwriting take a backseat in this project and instead solicited material from a variety of songwriting sources. Among the most valuable was former Subdudes member John Magnie, who contributed four tunes to Celeste. Having played live with Magnie and fellow Subdude Steve Amedee for a year and a half, Krenz opted to bring the duo into the studio when it came time to record. She also enlisted bassist Tim Cook, who plays with Magnie and Amedee as the retro folk-country act Three Twins.
"This is the first record I've ever done where I haven't written at least half of the songs -- or even more -- but I just wanted to go beyond the ego thing of 'Oh, I'm the songwriter' and just make a good record," Krenz says. "Still, it's hard to do other people's material; it's a whole different kind of challenge. After performing so long on my own or as part of a trio, I also got addicted to all that rhythm and groove you get with a full band and started to think more along that way when it came to new material. And John's such a great writer -- I just fell in love with a few of his songs when I was looking for demos."
Packaged with a sultry cover shot of the singer as bathing beauty (which, upon inspection of the inner sleeve, reveals itself as Krenz actually doing a bit of curious lounging in a lily-pad-covered pond at the Denver Botanic Gardens), Celeste's resulting collaborative efforts showcase a remarkable array of styles that includes everything from full-on country weepers such as "Like a Ghost" to the upbeat, Hammond-B3-injected roll of "Clear Blue Sky." She even takes a shot at Chris Isaak-styled, high-lonesome vocals in the '50s-country bossa nova tune "Since Then." The result is a warm, evocative mixture of crisply produced songs that give Krenz's soothing vocals a polished outlet (although the electronically altered vocals on "It All Comes Back" add a touch of contrivance that seems a bit too close to Cher's warbly disco hit "Believe").
But it's not all a guest-host arrangement. Krenz also gets to throw in a couple of her own compositions: "In the Arms of the Moon" and "I Had a Dream About You," personal ballads that deal tastefully with weighty topics like her sister's death in a car accident at sixteen.
"There's a tendency, I think, to subject audiences to more than they want to know about the writer's personal life," Krenz says. "Although the song about my sister is very personal, it has a universal message. I was surprised that after hearing it, Bob was so insistent that it go on this album."
But it's that kind of emotional clarity that has helped establish Krenz as one of the town's more notable writers and performers since she moved to Denver in 1990. Born and raised on a ranch near Williston, North Dakota, Krenz first developed musical interests in high school -- although she admits that she spent a good period trying to escape the cliched country music so omnipresent in her flatlands home.
"I think growing up there influenced my music in a way," she says. "I wasn't surrounded by anybody who wrote their own songs, and there were only two recording studios in the whole state. I had to come up with my own thing to do there and to be creative...and I think that's one of the reasons that I still don't sound particularly like country."
Krenz took a two-year break from college to travel the country as a singer-songwriter, settling briefly in Minneapolis before finishing a marketing degree. After graduation, she decided to follow friends and make the move to Denver, a community where she's appreciated the fact that those rural roots aren't so hard to find. Her time in Denver has yielded four independent CDs, with Krenz splitting her schedule between touring nationally and playing and writing at home.
Bittersweet as her relocation plans may be, Krenz said that Nashville's music-business focus should guarantee slightly more professional stability for her and her husband. "Nashville's not necessarily just a country town anymore. I'm really looking forward to being around other writers, and there's so much studio work out there, as well. Bob lived there for nine years, and he's traveled pretty extensively in the area."
Krenz's jump to the cradle of country is clearly a loss for the Denver scene, but she plans to be back whenever possible, pending the attainment of what promises to be an invigorated musical lifestyle. In the meantime, fans may want to take the final opportunity to see her at the Gothic this weekend, where she will perform with a full band that includes Tyler and Magnie, as well as Rich Moore, Jeremy Lawton, Brian McRae and Clay Kirkland. She'll also lend her talents to a show by Canadian cowboy music great Ian Tyson on March 2 at the Boulder Theater.
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