Sonya Kitchell
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Sonya Kitchell

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter

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Teenager’s music all grown up

Sonya Kitchell established herself as a breakout artist at age 16, when she recorded the album Words Came Back to Me and found herself performing on TV talk shows, notching respectable sales and collecting many a glowing review. Now 19 years old, the Massachusetts-bred singer/songwriter is back with This Storm, an accomplished effort that combines folk’s searching sentiments with pure pop bliss. Producer Malcolm Burn (Emmylou Harris) wisely keeps the emphasis on Kitchell’s voice, a smoky, expressive instrument that she deploys with preternatural restraint. Her subtlety adds intrigue to rock-infused cuts like “For Every Drop” (even when she lets loose, there’s the suggestion that she’s holding something back), but Kitchell is at her most devastating as a balladeer. On the gorgeous “So Lonely,” her vocals are so high in the mix and her delivery is so delicate that she could be confiding in your ear. - Paste Magazine


By Bill Clifford 5 May 2010

Sonya Kitchell was thrust into the spotlight upon the release of her critically lauded full-length debut, Words Come Back to Me, in 2006. Just a teenager at the time, she toured the world with a diverse array of artists such as Angelique Kidjo, Ben Harper, the Slip, and jazz legend Herbie Hancock. Late in 2008, however, the young singer/songwriter retreated to the countryside of her native Massachusetts to write new songs, resulting in the Convict of Conviction EP. The six songs here find Kitchell turning down a divergent path, as it was the first time she wrote on the piano, and they reflect the somber solace of the setting in which they were written.

The sullen title track is the strongest of the six, with lovely piano and Kitchell’s lilting vocal inflection backed by ominous cello and violin. The strings accentuate the tortured artist, the song’s protagonist. The tone lifts on “Lighthouse”, a ballad written from the perspective of being swept away by love at first sight, and searching for a guiding light. Then, on the foreboding, jazzy torch song “Sinks Like a Stone”, her breathy falsetto portrays a dark, solemn, worrisome heart, with wistful brushed percussion and lovely but sad piano underscoring the dark resonance. The percussion and strings take on a middle-eastern flare on the closing “Gypsy Eyes”, amidst lyrics of being ready to fall and pushed over the edge and wolves that howl and prowl.

This EP is mature and introspective in its subject matter, far more so than that of the majority of Sonya Kitchell’s 21-year-old peers. Then again, Kitchell’s music and performances have always been far more sophisticated than those of her contemporaries. - Pop Matters


Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 2:25PM

After two acclaimed albums and an international tour singing with jazz legend Herbie Hancock, 20-year-old performing songwriter Sonya Kitchell looked to the solace of the Massachusetts countryside to begin work on what has become Convict of Conviction, a new six-track EP due March 23 from 429 Records. "The songs came from a stillness," reflects Kitchell. "This is music I could not have written in New York City....the songs are a culmination of that silence and the time spent around numerous and masterful musicians." Since her work with Hancock on his Grammy-winning Joni Mitchell tribute album River, Kitchell has taken her songs deeply into the more abstract, jazz-influenced chamber-pop songwriting not unlike Mitchell's own Hejira period.



Conviction reflects that maturity and artistic freedom, resonating with sensitive touch and reserved emotions, Kitchell's airy vocals a perfectly mixed concoction of drifting wisps of smoke and hint of a warm, sultry breeze. A breathy whisper suspended over mostly piano, double bass, brushed drumwork and backing strings is the template for songs such as "Lighthouse" and "Sinks Like A Stone" while the closing number "Gypsy Eyes" is the lone guitar-focused track, a lovely meditative melody setting a spare stage for Kitchell's bending, ascendant vocals. Convict of Conviction is an elegant, sophisticated album that's best experienced in the aesthetic of it's artful creation: the quiet of solitude. Highly recommended. - Direct Current-Know Better Music


Here's a talent to discover and savor, as Sonya Kitchell's name is likely not on the top of your to-find list, but should be. Her winsome, thin, and dusky singing voice bears inevitable comparison to Feist, wafting through these original songs based on a certain surreal romanticism. Kitchell also plays piano, guitars, and fronts a spare ensemble of violins and cellos, adding further to the haunting refrains her voice conjures, perhaps comparable to Robyn Hitchcock. There's serenity and sensuality combined as her chordal piano punctuates the cleverly titled two-beat "Convict of Conviction," but on occasion Kitchell stretches high notes in cloudy refrains that are half somber, half plaintive. Where "Mr. Suicidal" might be morbid in a light rock pulse, the light, steady and evocative "Snowing" displays perfect snowflake imagery for the cold winter months. The string arrangements are not at all syrupy, matching the elusive nature of Kitchell's singing, especially during "Gypsy Eyes," which can easily be her signature song and sound. Certain credit where credit is due goes to bassist and arranger Garth Stevenson for giving Sonya Kitchell the tools to create these siren songs of uncertainty, impending blues, and thinly veiled hope. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi - iTunes


Taking a year off in rural Massachusetts gave the singer a new perspective and new material
By Maureen Fleming
Published: May 28th, 2010 | 10:31am

Sonya Kitchell has been on the road for long swaths of time since the age of 16, touring the world with jazz great Herbie Hancock, sharing the stage with the likes of Joan Collins and Madeleine Peyroux, and promoting her own albums including the debut Words Come Back to Me, which caught the attention of the folks over at Starbucks and was chosen as their second ever Hear Music release. This year, however, has been moving at a slower pace than the full sprint at which Kitchell’s grown accustomed—but that doesn’t mean the singer/guitarist hasn’t been busy.

After finishing up her tour with the Slip where she promoted her 2008 album This Storm, Kitchell found herself “homeless for a second,” having given up her apartment in New York while she was on the road. Instead, she returned to her stomping grounds in Western Massachusetts. “My friends had this house that was kind of empty, so I asked if I could stay there,” explains Kitchell. She ended up staying solo for the entire winter and used the time to write music that would make up her newly released EP, Convict of Conviction. For anyone familiar with Kitchell’s former work, this EP has a distinctly different feel, which takes the singer songwriter to a whole new level and adds, among other elements, a string quartet into the mix.

“It truly was in the middle of nowhere,” Kitchell says of the house in the mountains of Massachusetts that became her home and inspiration throughout the frigid months of 2009. “It’s interesting staying by yourself in the winter. It’s very quiet at night and the house creeks. You get used to it, and I even miss it, honestly. It’s nice to have that kind of space and solitude.”

Kitchell has always been sure of her path in life, and that unyielding certainty has led her to make bold decisions from an early age. She requested voice lessons at seven, jumped in with adults at jam sessions, started her first band at twelve, and made the tough decision to choose her career over high school. “I have actually been gigging since I was ten years old. It sounds ridiculous, especially now, but it wasn’t weird then,” says Kitchell. “I was so confident as a child, and I trusted that it was what I was meant to be doing and that things would just work out as they were supposed to. If anything went wrong, I knew it was supposed to happen. So, I learned these lessons, and I think that’s really kind of the key: if you love something enough, trust in it. And trust that everything will be taken care of if you do it with integrity, compassion, and honesty.”

Kitchell’s talent, focus, and confidence have taken her to amazing places in her relatively short life. She has been all over the globe and rocked out on some of the most famous stages on the planet, including Carnegie Hall—twice. The first time she walked the famed boards was during The Music of Joni Mitchell, a tribute concert that raised over $130,000 for Music for Youth. “It was such a funny night. I had a dress but I hadn’t found any shoes to go with it! So, one of my close friends was frantically searching Century 21 or Loehmann’s or something.” The shoes purchased for her had a heel that would make even Carrie Bradshaw gasp. Kitchell wasn’t sure what to do, and so she practiced walking in them backstage before the show.

“I’m sharing a dressing room with Amy Grant, Judy Collins, and Michelle Williams. And Amy Grant was like, ‘Oh, maybe you should go barefoot.’ And Michelle Williams thought I should wear the heels. And Judy Collins was like, ‘Whatever makes you comfortable.’” Distracted, Kitchell says, “I completely forgot all the lyrics to the song I was singing. I was standing there watching Tom Rush sing, and Judy Collins came up to me, and she started singing the harmony to the song in my ear. It was this total magical moment.”

Judging by this experience, Kitchell doesn’t take things for granted. During these recent moments of quiet, she has been able to reflect on just how much she appreciates the life she’s leading. “Certainly, in this last year, it’s become really clear to me that I need it to live and love music more than anything. I have to tour and perform, and I have to write. I want to travel and meet people so I can hear their stories and witness life. That to me is the essence of what’s important.” - VenusZine


Discography

Convict of Conviction (2010)

This Storm (2008)

Words Came Back To Me (2006)

Cold Day (2005)

Photos

Bio

"Somewhere between Norah Jones, Sandy Denny, and Joni Mitchell ... we don't expect her to play small rooms on the cheap for long" - The Village Voice

True to the title of Sonya Kitchell’s 2008 album This Storm, the 21-year-old singer songwriter’s life has been in constant whirlwind mode since the release of her critically acclaimed 2006 breakthrough Words Came Back To Me. While she’s performed with everyone from Angelique Kidjo and Ben Harper to Jamie Cullum, India.Arie, Los Lonely Boys and Madeleine Peyroux, her career picked up international steam when jazz legend Herbie Hancock tapped her to tour the world with him in 2007. Slowing down after an exhilarating year on the road with Hancock and later The Slip, Kitchell found a much needed quieter place to write and record the six songs on Convict Of Conviction, her 6-track EP debut for 429 Records.

In the winter of 2008, the multi-talented singer retreated to the isolated Massachusetts countryside to write her new songs. Collaborating with bassist/arranger Garth Stevenson and producer Stewart Lerman with an ensemble that includes Sarah Parkington, Yoed Nir, Richie Barshay and Rebecca Cherry, Kitchell recorded the new collection in Hoboken, New Jersey at the famed Water Music Studios. “The songs came from a stillness,” she says. “This is music I could not have written in New York City. I am thankful I had this time in between moving back to New York and getting off the road to contemplate, while the music drifted down from the dusty rafters to slip unassumingly from my soul. The songs on Convict Of Conviction are a culmination of that silence and the time spent around numerous masterful musicians. I felt like working with Herbie had finally crept its way beautifully into my songwriting, in its own way.”

“The months on the road was the longest time period in my life where I didn’t write or finish a single song,” Kitchell adds. “Suddenly in the silence and space of this quiet empty house, these songs started pouring forth. It was the first time I had tried writing on the piano and a completely different sound came out. The piano lent a different sensibility to the music, than anything I’d ever written before.”

Calling the collection a time capsule, Kitchell explains that it perfectly captures the emotions and stirrings of a winter away from the limelight; with the exception of the bluesy and infectious “Mr. Suicidal,” all the songs were penned alone in a country house that winter. Sweetening her compositions, Stevenson wrote string arrangements which came out of a small duo tour the two did together in February 2009. They pulled together a string quartet to try the music out and it clicked. Kitchell and Stevenson played several shows with the new ensemble and recorded the EP in a single afternoon.

Kitchell decided she was going to be a singer at age seven, and by eight, had made her debut performance at a piano recital. By age ten, she was taking voice lessons with jazz singers Sheila Jordan and Rebecca Parris, followed by learning to play the guitar and writing her first song at age 12. Soon after, she formed the Sonya Kitchell Band, which earned an enthusiastic following through regular appearances at the Northampton, Mass. club, the Iron Horse. Meanwhile, one of her compositions won two awards at the 2003 DownBeat Student Music Awards, and she was one of 40 composers under 30 – and at the age of 14, the youngest by four years – to be selected for a week-long workshop in jazz composition for the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

In 2004, Sonya was spotted by the head of the artist-friendly Velour Music Group, which signed on as her management and record label. Kitchell recorded and released the EP Cold Day for Velour and began sharing bills with such artists as Taj Mahal and Tuck & Patti. In 2005, as advance copies of her full length debut Words Came Back To Me made the industry rounds, the album so impressed the principals of Starbucks Hear Music that they decided to make it their second-ever release in their Hear Music Debut CD series in 2006.

With its intimate tone and feathery falsetto, Kitchell’s worldly voice earned her attention not only from excited critics but also from Hancock, who invited her to perform with him and his all-star band at the Sonoma Jazz Festival in 2006. The two developed a warm rapport and Hancock tapped the young singer to join his group as he toured the West Coast in support of his Grammy winning album River: The Joni Letters; Kitchell also sings on “All I Want” on the Amazon and ex-U.S. iTunes versions of the album. The keyboard great later invited Kitchell to tour the world with him. In a unique tie in to that experience, she appeared at NYC’s famed Carnegie Hall as part of “The Music Of Joni Mitchell,” a live tribute to her idol featuring Judy Collins, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega and others.

With the release of Convict of Conviction, Kitchell says, “I hope