Caren Armstrong
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Caren Armstrong

Oakland, California, United States | INDIE

Oakland, California, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter

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"by Valerie Fasimpaur"

The combination of a black lace shawl and Converse high-tops worn by Caren Armstrong on the cover of Independent Girl seems fitting. This self-written collection of primarily acoustic folk tunes has a few surprises and just enough "independence" to make it stand out from many other forays into the genre.
Vocally, Caren is a competent, pleasant-sounding alto with a thinner quality to her upper range. She doesn't shy away from the higher notes, though, and often exploits the contrast in timbre by skipping from the lower octave to the higher. On the slow folk songs where she provides her own backing vocals, her sense of two-part harmony is excellent. Her range, uncomplicated vocal lines and perfect articulation make these songs very singable (an important point for wannabe folk singers).
Instrumentally, you'll find much more than typical folk music chord strumming here. As a lifelong guitar player and teacher, Caren brings considerable skill to her music. Her intricate but unassuming guitar work adds real quality to this CD. On a few tracks, additional string accompaniment is provided by Joe Craven on mandolin, Derek Jones on acoustic and electric bass, Sam Broussard on lead guitar, and Wayne Johnson on hi-string, classical guitar and ukulele.
The folk songs are the meat of Independent Girl. "Don't Go to Sleep," "I Feel Your Love," "It's a Long Long Way," "Slipping Away" and "Leaving Lincoln County" are all beautiful songs that wholly express a variety of emotions with a striking efficiency and fusion of melody and lyrics. The rare combination is solidly evident in Caren's songwriting.
A couple of the tracks have a distinctly country sound. On "Maybe I Did" and "I Can't Stop Thinking About You," Caren's voice twangs and slides right along with the lead guitar. I could imagine several big-name country stars singing these or some big country producer hearing them and sticking Caren into the country niche.
About halfway through the CD, just when you think it's safe to label it a folk-country/folk thing, you hear the quotable words: "Well I wish you were a snake so I could skin your ass and roast it on the fire." What follows is unclassifiable song with some great guitar fingerpicking and clearly hostile (but fun) lyrics. Another surprise is the jazzy "Pound of Flesh," where Caren's opinion of the medical and media communities' homogenization of the female figure is accompanied by simple percussion and a no-nonsense bass line. Go, Caren!
Independent Girl is a very enjoyable disk that spans a range of emotions and musical styles. Caren Armstrong's vocal, instrumental and writing talents are well showcased by this collection that will grab your attention. Give it a listen.
- Rambles online review


"Independent Girl CD"

Self-assured with her heart on her sleeve, folksy singer/songwriter Caren Armstrong packs a punch with the folksy and evocative Independent Girl. Skillfully blending the sounds and styles of Sheryl Crow, the Indigo Girls, and Natalie Merchant, Armstrong may in fact be independent, but she's strong enough to hold her own with the best of mainstream women rockers.
The title track is an ode to freedom, facing the fears of the unknown: Packing boxes, burning bridges / Stacking reasons why she stayed...And in the night / Maybe she cry / But she's alright / Independent Girl. The thought provoking Don't Go To Sleep warns of the dangers of ignorance in an ironic lullaby fashion, and Maybe I Did eases along with a bluesy shuffle, in the vein of the aforementioned Ms. Crow. It's a Long Way has more of a country twang, and Pound of Flesh walks along with cool jazzy bass lines.
Armstrong wears a lot of musical hats, and that makes it all the more interesting. With diversity and plenty of talent, Independent Girl is a truly memorable release.
MISH MASH Mandate: Independent and loving it. - Mish Mash Reviews


"Live at the Freight & Salvage"

Slipping between saucy and serious, beautiful and burlesque, raucous and rhapsodic, Caren Armstrong held us firmly but tenderly last night at the Freight and Salvage! I had heard her perform only once before so was fully prepared for joy, but did not anticipate the sublime! Dressed in a black velvet dress with gold sequins adorning her derriere, she hustled and bustled her way around the stage with the delicacy and determination of a chanteuse determined to give is Everything...And Everything is what we got, from her spectacular and passionate guitar playing to her pithy, pulsating and down home lyrics (most of the songs written by her) . Caren left no stone unturned as she belted out the sardonic "Enlightenment Blues" then went deep inside of her own pain as she crooned, quite hauntingly, "Leaving Lincoln County", a vignette about the death of a lover, a dream and perhaps even a small demise of her own soul?
The large crowd was riveted to each and every note Caren played and sang...It was clear she was in the fine company of friends and she encouraged participation from all of us! Requests were shouted out and Caren would smile, make some soft arcane comment then hold her guitar snugly, over that black velvet dress, and oblige each one. She was effervescent, complex, moody, quixotic, enthusiastic and just down-right REAL! Not so easy to find an earthy, sinewy, sophisticated, never subdued, sassy singer these days I muse, but last night at the Freight, she was OURS for the taking! - Linda Zeiser


"Women of Substance Music"

"Caren's songs are acoustic/folk treasures with an infusion of blues and country. This petite redhead may be a California girl, but her music seems to come directly from the heart of America. Caren is an award-winning songwriter who has recorded several albums and has a slew of prestigious performances to her credit.  With impressive guitar chops and an authentic, folky voice, Caren Armstrong has all the components of a great folk artist. She hosts a monthly showcase called "Celebrating Songwriters in the SF Bay Area to present her music and other local talent" -Women of Substance Radio - Women of Substance Radio


"Michael Scott Cain reviews EVERYTHING"

“Every once in a while, you hear a singer for the first time and wonder, "Why haven't I heard her before? Why isn't this woman a star?" Caren Armstrong is one of those singers. On Everything, her fourth CD -- and the first I've heard -- she delivers just about what the title promises: everything. Fine songs, fine arrangements, singing good enough to rivet you in place, singing that never calls undue attention to itself but instead serves the song instead of trying to overpower it.” --Michael Scott Cain Rambles E-Zine, December 2007 - Rambles E-Zine


Discography

Everything #6 song ("Ride") and the #10 CD on the Folk DJ radio chart in March of 2008.
My Own Voice
Every New Day
Independent Girl
The Truth Stays True
Artist for Change Compilation
Wine Women and Song compilation (benefitting breast cancer)

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Bio

Caren’s signature performances spotlight her award-winning songs, her quick wit and a disarmingly honest style. Armstrong inspires by combining skillful guitar playing with “a deeply original voice that the listener experiences as coming from within”. -Russ Jennings, DJ/Promoter.

The old adage, "Arm yourself with impeccable technique and throw yourself on the mercy of inspiration" defines the work of one of the left coast's most popular Singer/Songwriters, Caren Armstrong. The petite redhead has been hailed as "a living testament to the art of Self-Expression". - Bob Stane

"...Dressed in a black velvet dress with gold sequins adorning her derriere, Caren Armstrong hustled and bustled her way around the stage with the delicacy and determination of a chanteuse determined to give us Everything.....and Everything is what we got; from her spectacular and passionate guitar playing to her pithy, pulsating and down home lyrics, Caren's one woman show at the Freight and Salvage left no emotional stone unturned...." Linda Zeiser, author, poet

Armstrong's award winning songs entice her listeners to explore their own inner landscapes "with a striking efficiency and fusion of melody and lyrics." Rambles Ezine. Her dangerously honest, wickedly funny, and disarmingly vulnerable style references folk, country, blues, jazz, traditional and popular music, yet is distinctively her own. An accomplished musician and songwriter, Caren's soaring vocals, sophisticated guitar chops and dynamic stage presence has endeared her to fans nationwide. Armstrong's songs transcend the self-revelatory and speak universally to the human condition. They are, as Grammy winner Steve Seskin put it:

"Songs about real life performed with passion and precision."

Among her credits: she has received top honors at the Napa Valley Music Festival and at the Tucson Folk Festival, and has been a finalist at both the Wildflower Music Festival in Texas and at the Rocky Mt. Folks Fest in Colorado. Her latest CD, "Everything" was the #6 song ("Ride") and the #10 CD on the Folk DJ radio chart in March of 2008. She has provided ongoing community for both artists and music lovers with her popular long standing monthly showcase, Celebrating Songwriters.

The petite redhead has performed with innumerable acts, opening high profile shows for Nanci Griffith, Peter Rowan, Lee Ann Womack, and The Beach Boys and sharing stages with everyone from Terri Hendrix to The Waybacks. Some venues include:
Kerrville Folk Festival Main Stage
Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkeley, CA
Great American Music Hall, SF CA
The Bluebird Cafe, Nashville, TN
Trinity Backstage Concert Series, Santa Barbara CA
Living Traditions Concert Series, Buena Park CA
The Roda Theatre, Berkeley CA
Larkspur Cafe Theatre, Larkspur, CA
Acoustic Sounds Cafe, Little Rock AK
Eddie's Attic, Atlanta GA
Uncle Calvins, Dallas TX
Tractor Tavern, Seattle WA
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley CA
Mountain Winery, Saratoga CA
Wildflower Music and Arts Festival, Richardson, TX
Dogwood Festival, Atlanta GA
Napa Valley Folk Festival, Napa CA
Sierra Songwriter Music Festival, Bear Valley CA
High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy CA
Tucson Folk Festival, Tucson CA
Turtle Hill Folk Festival, Rochester NY