Kristeen Young

Critics' pick

Kristeen Young is best known for her fan base—in particular its most prominent member, Steven Patrick Morrissey. An enigmatic singer-songwriter with a Maria Callas voice, Young has opened shows for Morrissey consistently since 2011. (Their 2007 rift—he fired her for responding onstage to audience members heckling his sexual prowess—is long behind them.) In his recent autobiography, Morrissey called her performances “as striking as having a safe drop on your head from a tenth-story window.”

Such similes are what it takes to capture Young. With her four-octave vocal range, bellicose rapport with the keyboard, and high-drama makeup and costuming, the half-Apache, half-German adoptee of strict Christians could share DNA with Diamanda Galas.

On past albums, Young used a double holster of dissonance and confrontation to explore opposing forces of home and alienation. “This Is War” opens Young’s new release, The Knife Shift (coproduced by Tony Visconti, with guest artists Dave Grohl and Boz Boorer), but never has her work felt less like an assault. The 11 songs, largely about her youth in St. Louis, feature complex rhythms, lush loops and layers of that inimitable voice, with a sense of drama that’s at times entirely tender. It’s as if Young is inviting listeners to ride alongside her in the same runaway 18-wheeler that might have once T-boned them.—Kate Crane

Follow Kate Crane on Twitter: @cratekane

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