Now that her debut CD has been released by giant Blue Note Records, Kristina Train is beginning to realize the dream she had while growing up in Savannah: Singing for lots and lots and lots of people.
Although Blue Note is one of the most respected jazz labels in America, Spilt Milk isn’t a jazz record – at 27, Train is a fully–formed R&B balladeer, and the record showcases her tender–yet–tough vocal delivery on a mostly self–penned set of songs both soulful and silvery.
Train’s voice is a marvelously flexible instrument; you’ll hear echoes of Bonnie Raitt, Norah Jones, Joan Osborne and even Eva Cassidy, but only echoes. Spilt Milk is the sound of one woman – Kristina Train – exposing her heart. And flexing her muscles.
She was born in New York, but arrived in Savannah with her family at the tender age of 10. “It was great growing up there,” Train says, “because that’s where I got exposed to southern soul. It was something that really changed the path of what my musical direction took.”
In church, she fell under the spell of gospel music. And Savannah, being the musical town that it is, inevitably provided the soundtrack to her life.
“If you just walk into a restaurant or a gas station, or just walking around downtown, I heard Otis Redding, Al Green, Aretha Franklin or Sam Cooke at any given moment,” she recalls. “It really just keeps the traditions alive. And even if you’re not realizing it’s happening, you’re somehow soaking that up. I think that’s what happened to me.”
A trained classical violinist, Train played in her school band, and with Savannah’s youth orchestra.
But her one great love was soulful singing. “That was the way I really felt I could express myself, and that I was doing it in an honest way,” she says. “I don’t know why that is – maybe you like the color purple and I like the color blue, or whatever.
“But there’s something out there for everyone, and for me it was just that soul stuff.”
The fact that she was young, and white, did not deter her. “Soul can be any color. I never once heard anything negative. For the most part, I just got some head–turns: ”Wait a minute ... what’s going on?’
“I mean, you can’t deny the obvious. The soul came from a certain place. And I’m a little different, but it spread its wings and it’s really come to roost in a lot of different places and people.”
Train finished high school in New Jersey, and began to ponder what her first bold musical move would be.
Her mother, who was – and still is – a 4th grade teacher at Notre Dame Academy, had other ideas. She wanted Kristina to attend college.
“I’d started to really dislike school in high school,” Train says, “and I barely made it out of there. The thought of having to handle another four years was really upsetting.
“My mom wanted to send me away to school, because she wanted to get me as far away from music as possible. And I hoodwinked her – at the very last minute I said ‘I’ll go to Athens and go to college!’ And I ended up joining a band and not showing up for class, because we were playing out all night.”
As for her stint at the University of Georgia, she adds, “I hated every minute of it.”
Her Athens group was an alt/country and blues outfit called the Park Bench Blues Band. They toured a lot – the southeast, mostly, although they avoided Savannah almost completely so that Kristina wouldn’t have to keep explaining things to her mom.
A Blue Note agent brought the young singer to New York for a showcase, and soon after she signed on the dotted line.
That was, incredibly, almost eight years ago. In the music business, many things don’t happen overnight.
“Blue Note is so incredible,” Train gushes. “I’m still wondering what huge cosmic mistake there was in the universe that landed me there. Very rarely these days do labels invest in artist development – they want everything to sort of be ready to roll.
“And it took me a while to get to here. When I signed with Blue Note – the second time – I was 24, and I was writing with different writers and working with producers in New York and Los Angeles, and it never clicked. And they were very patient with me.”
Eventually, she flew to England and clicked with British producer Jimmy Hogarth (Duffy, Corinne Bailey Rae, James Blunt) and songwriter and multi–instrumentalist Eg White.
“When I went to London and I felt very strongly that this was the right thing to do, the label said ‘OK, go for it.’ They just let us explore new territory and do our own thing, and when the time came we submitted our songs. And they said ‘All right! This is an album – go in and make it what it needs to be.’
“I will always be grateful to the guys at Blue Note for doing that for me.”
Train’s Savannah violin training was put to good use – on Spilt Milk, she has arranging credits on three of the tracks, and overdubbed strings on two of them.
With help from Hogarth and White, she found the perfect blend of sensitivity and soulfulness. “It immediately came out that way,” she remembers. “The first song we wrote was ‘Spilt Milk,’ and I knew, ‘God, this is what I’ve been waiting for. This is it. This is the song I want to sing, this is the album I want to make, and this really reflects who I am, musically.’”
Train’s hitting the road, and hitting it hard, to bring the Spilt Milk songs to as many people as possible. She’ll play the Savannah Music Festival March 20 and 21.
“All I really want out of this is the ability to sustain as an artist over time,” she says. “I want to be able to keep doing this and have a lifelong career. I want to reach people. You know, music gave me a gift, and I want to give it back.”
Hear songs from ‘Spilt Milk’ at www.kristinatrain.com