“I’m drawn to dreamy lyrics” explains songwriter Cristina Harris, “I’m here in the present, but there’s definitely a part of my brain that’s in the clouds.” Her lyrics may be inspired by daydreaming, but Harris’ new songs feel catchy and well-constructed, with direct and beautifully orchestrated piano and guitar parts laying a perfect foundation for her introspective thoughts. On her newest release Cover, Harris brings a confidence and vocal command to songs about finding freedom and independence, framed beautifully by her charismatic pop sensibilities.
Growing up outside of New Haven, Connecticut, Harris was surrounded by a musical family who encouraged her natural penchant for singing. In her early years, Harris gravitated towards the musical theater and opera. She studied bel canto with her grandmother, a professional opera singer, whose vast expertise helped Harris lay the groundwork for her vocal range. She was inspired by a family of musicians ranging from classical, jazz and rock.
From age 13, Harris also studied piano. “I was exposed to a variety of composers. I was drawn to the brooding, moodiness of Chopin and reveled in the simple, melancholy of Erik Satie” she says. She wrote her first instrumental piano composition at age 16, and was encouraged by her teacher to continue writing. Her voice had always come naturally, so she didn’t give it much thought as she got her BA in music at Southern CT State University, studying piano. While attending college, Harris played keyboards and sang background vocals in a “bubblegum garage punk-pop” band called The Battlecats. We would pack clubs and won “Best Band in Connecticut.” She went on to pursue a Masters degree in orchestral composition at the University of Portland in Oregon. But after a year of feeling like a round peg in a square hole in her traditional composition program, Harris began writing and singing her own songs. For the first time, she found a true freedom of expression.
She left the University of Portland and returned to New Haven and thus began Harris’ journey as a songwriter. She wrote a bunch of songs, released a few demos and played with her own band throughout Connecticut. She went out to Los Angeles where she recorded with Grammy-winning producer Ryan Freeland, known for his work with Ray LaMontagne and Bonnie Raitt among others. Her first full-length album, Safer in the Dark, led to some industry attention, and one of her songs, Banging Away, being used on the recent Netflix reboot of Charmed.
On the heels of this recent success comes her newest project, Cover, Harris generates guitar-driven songs, produced by fellow New Haven native Nick Bellmore, known for his work with Hatebreed and Dee Snider among others. The title track is an exploration of letting life go off the rails, harkening back to her fearless foray into independent music. “You’re off the track, off the track, you’re speeding back and switching tracks/Cover, you gave it all and nobody gave you Cover” she sings.
“Take Me Home” is a whimsical exploration of her memories with an irreverent, rebellious quality, “It’s a long, long day/ and looking back seems so far away/ but I face no regret/ since I paid my dues / If you jumped this train/ then we could drink whiskey lemonade/ cuz I don’t usually walk this way…If you see me / take me home tonight” she sings.
Inspired by Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits and Nina Simone, Harris says she approaches her music as poetry first and foremost, and as her songwriting skills have developed, she’s also learned to trust herself more as an artist. “When I was writing in my 20s, it always felt like magic…I remember writing one of my songs, ‘Virginia’ and actually being in bed almost asleep, putting the light on and writing the entire lyrics without ever stopping. It just flowed out. It’s interesting in the early days of writing because you don’t yet have the faith that you will be able to ever write another song! You think, ‘I guess that’s it!’ As we mature as writers, we lose the naivete and innocence but we gain the confidence that our muse won’t abandon us.”
With gorgeous piano playing, and alluring vocals, Harris’ new project is a gift to any dreamer, with catchy melodies to inspire and propel you down the road.
Music Connection Magazine
2Keyboard-centric singer-songwriter oozes intelligence with a voice that is confident and assured. A thoughtful, pensive artist, her “Gasoline,” “Banging Away” and “Ghost boy” has intriguing wordplay as well as a dark undertone, which is consistently compelling. Production is understated yet effective, with expert vocal doubling at times. From Harris’ rich vocal tones to the deft touches in the tracks (oboe, marimba) it’s the kind of smart, somber pop music that fans of Aimee Mann and Meiko would easily embrace.
If you’re a fan of pop of any form, going to this is a show will make you’re month. Not to sound clichéd but Cristina Harris makes music that warms you up. Her lyrics build up amazing stories that encase you in your own little world for the four odd minutes you’re listening to them. Her voice also brings a sense of genuineness, a sense that she sincerely connects to the themes and topics being melodically drawn out.
Cristina Harris made me eat crow. This New Haven-based pop songstress pulled a Kanye and bailed on her stuffy master’s program in order to get out and rock. She played this past Saturday at Cheshire’s Funky Monkey Café & Gallery, an upscale coffee-and-booze space. Her cover of “Tempted” was impressive—it’s a vocally demanding song, with its frequent shifts from major to minor key, and Harris handled the twists and turns well. And “It’s Too Late” gave me shivers; sad and simple, her rendition has been stuck in my head for days now. But it’s Harris’ originals that won me over for good. She dabbles in rich instrumentation and her performance proved to be both innovative and intriguing.
It’s the kind of demo you wish was an album: four pop tracks, impeccably produced by Stephen Harris. Together, the two make a subtle union of misery and sunshine, of bitterness and fun. Harris’ lyrics are full of erudite, wink-and-a-stab wit as: “you’re always better retrospectively,” she sings on “Contemptuous Moon.” But the real killer track is the morose, dour “Ghost Boy,” which is driven forward with torturous resolve by organ and simple guitar lick. Harris sings of revelations and happiness as though they were mere speed bumps. Meanwhile, her piano playing is meshed into the song arrangements so that they remain slick and flawless. It has the interesting effect of casting Harris as a chanteuse, rather than a stereotypical piano-bench-riding sad girl. The disc cleverly skirts being an emo sob-fest, and instead is an invitation to relish the paradoxical joy of wallowing.
“Her material has a haunting quality to it, yet maintains an element of undeniable catchiness. Her piano driven work shows a great deal of maturity with songs of substance-similar in vain to the work of Aimee Mann or Ben Folds.”