In 2018, this blog called Amythyst Kiah “a force of nature and then some.” She’s a double threat on both blues guitar and oldtime banjo, and a powerful singer with a defiant populist streak and a deep historical awareness. This year she’s one of the few highlights of what has been the worst-ever series of Lincoln Center Out of Doors concerts, with a gig out back of the complex in Damrosch Park tomorrow night, July 30 at around six. Pensive Turkish chanteuse Aynur opens the night at 5 PM; thunderous Ukrainian folk-punk stompers Dakhabrakha headline. Seats are first-come, first-served.
Kiah’s album Wary & Strange came out last year and is streaming at Bandcamp. Those who haven’t seen her live should be aware that she’s infinitely more raw and uncompromising onstage. These songs are good, but, clearly, she’s still figuring out how they translate in the studio. It would be great to hear her flex on the frets the way she can, and nix the techy glitches the next time out.
One of the most memorable songs is Black Myself, a roaring, multitracked blues tune where she turns a litany of racial assumptions upside down. Hangover Blues has a funny wah guitar track mimicking a blues harp. Kiah nicks a famous Dylan riff for Firewater, a reflection on exorcising psychological ghosts. Then she springboards off an iconic Rev. Gary Davis tune for Tender Organs, a vehicle for her purist, incisively edgy oldschool soul guitar work.
In Ballad of Lost, Kiah reaffirms that she’s just as much at home with a wistful country waltz. One suspects that she really kicks out the jams in concert with the rock tune and the smoldering soul ballad afterward, but trying to make hip-hop out of them is a mindfuck.
There’s plenty more of Kiah online. Ludicrous as the idea of covering Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart may be, Kiah reinvents it by changing the chords and making a slow, simmering, vampy southern soul song out of it. And it’s actually not bad! It’s up at her homepage right now.