When Kristina Murray first started performing her country/Americana songs around Boulder County, there simply weren’t many people doing what she does. And to this day, country in Boulder stands out like a three-piece suit at a hoedown.
“Oh, it breaks my heart,” Murray says in a slight Southern accent. “Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I’m searching every venue we have in Fort Collins and Lyons and Denver for anything remotely close, and there’s definitely a handful of bands that I like to check out, and I’m grateful for those, but yeah, the lack of country music or country-tinged rock is saddening.”
That said, when you hear Murray’s rock-tinged take on country music, you think that she might have honed her craft jamming somewhere in the clubs around her hometown of Atlanta, Ga., or perhaps at jam sessions in Clemson, S.C., where she went to college. But Murray didn’t start performing music until 2009, two years after she moved to Boulder. Her music is as local as organic, gluten-free granola.
After moving to Boulder in 2007, Murray started playing in jam sessions and bluegrass picks around town — ones at Oskar Blues, Southern Sun, Foolish Craig’s, Albums on the Hill — and people at the jams soon encouraged her to write songs and perform solo. Her first time on stage was at a 2009 Gram Parsons tribute concert at Oskar Blues in Lyons. Her boyfriend was in a bluegrass band, the type that played in a semicircle around a single, vertical microphone designed to pick up every thing in a four-foot radius.
“So I had been practicing on a mic like that, and I remember at the Gram Parsons show they had the regular Shure SM58 [microphone],” which you practically need to swallow to use properly, “and I was singing, like, five feet away. No one could hear anything I was singing; I was so nervous.”
Murray has come a long way since then, and she certainly knows how to use a microphone now.
Late last year she released her first album of 11 original songs, Unravelin’, and she has been gigging locally to support it ever since. She got a slew of good press right after the release, and she is looking forward to taking her musical career to the next level.
“All I know is that due-paying time is forthcoming, so if I have to play a bunch of dives and shitty bars, I’m OK with that,” she says. “As long as it’s honest, as long as it’s real and strong.”
The songs that make up Unravelin’ mostly blend Americana with rock inflections. The opening song, “Smoke and Brown Whiskey,” starts out with a rock-ish drum fill, while the second song, “I Can’t Recall,” is a fairly straightforward honky-tonk number, complete with clinking piano, fiddle and lyrics about drinking away heartache in a bar. “Half Empty” swings almost entirely to the opposite side: a driving, powerful guitar riff anchors the song, leaving Murray’s voice as the only thing country about it.
Murray cites Loretta Lynn, Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris as her primary muses, and she admires the storytelling acumen of people like Guy Clark, Adam Carroll and Hayes Carll. She mostly dips into her own experience to come up with lyrics — three songs on the album are about her dad, who passed away recently — though she is working on a song about a meth ring down south. She has a handful of songs already written for her next album, which she is already planning to record.
She’s gigging around town, but she has her sights set beyond Boulder County. She acknowledges that you can’t make it by just staying a local musician, and if she could she would drop her full-time job and hit the road touring.
“I could hate it,” she says, and starts to laugh. “I could totally hate it. But I don’t know if sitting in front of a computer for eight hours is something I’d rather be doing. And I think if I don’t do it, I’m going to hate myself when I’m older. ... I mean, as cliche as it sounds, you only live once. Why not?”