Kipyn Martin

Dallas Morning News

Back in 2008, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing the great Art Garfunkel. He surprised me with his response to a question about his voice. 

"It is my first friend, my singing voice. I noticed that I could sing in tune at 4 or 5, and it became my friend. And it was attached to my notion of God. Where did this come from? Given by whom?"

Garfunkel is 74. Singer-songwriter Kipyn Martin is 29, but she, as much as anyone, knows whereof he speaks. Martin writes intensely personal songs whose music and lyrics call to mind a young Joni Mitchell, but the first thing you notice, a la Garfunkel, is the voice.

She will bring her voice and a suitcase full of songs to Uncle Calvin's Coffeehouse on Friday night.

So storied is the mystery of her voice that it's even the subject of family folklore. For years, she has heard the story about being a baby, growing up in Charles Town, W. Va., where "before I learned to speak," she says, "I was apparently singing harmony. I don't know the full story, of course, nor do I even recall this, but my mother and sister were driving to the grocery store, and ... "

They had the radio tuned to the Mamas and the Papas, whose music Martin grew up hearing. "As usual, they were singing harmony in the front seat, but suddenly, one of them stopped singing, and yet, they could still hear the harmony. They looked at each other, as if to say, 'Was that you?' This was my mom talking to my sister, and then they look back at little me, sitting in the car seat."

It's a touching story, culled from a family memory, which speaks to the magic of Martin's voice as well as any. But then, you wonder about the power of her lyrics, and suddenly, abruptly, you hear a different story, as painful as the other one is sweet.

Martin has released one single (the spiritual, uplifting "Dance Across the Sky") and one album, Undercover Muse, which contains the beguiling "Undone."

"Undone" rose from a moment of tremendous pain whose movie of emotion also stars Martin's mother and sister. Sadly, these days, disharmony defines the relationship. Neither the mother nor sister is on speaking terms with the woman who was once the baby in the car seat. Martin maintains a close relationship with her father, who divorced her mom when she was 7.

"When one of the most important relationships in my life dissolved," she says, "I had the support of two individuals who came through as surrogate parents for me. I remember thinking, 'At this point in my life, I so need people who will have my back.'

"The song 'Undone' is literally about me feeling like I was coming undone but having people strong enough and kind enough to help me put myself back together. I consider the people who helped me do that to be two of my dearest friends. 'Undone' is for them."

One is Martin's mentor in musical composition. The other is father figure Pops Walker, a legendary singer-songwriter who hosts the annual Shenandoah River Songfest, which Martin has graced as a performer at least six times. 

She also has won numerous awards, including Gold and Silver honors in the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. She was named a Showcase artist at the 2014 Southeast/Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference and received international attention in the 2013 United Kingdom Song Contest when "I Believe in You" from her debut album won a Gold Award and the Director's Choice award in the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. 

But the biggest, she says, came last year, when she received the New Artist of the Year award from WAMA, which stands for Washington Area Music Association. Martin lives near Washington, D.C., in Columbia, Md., where she teaches guitar, piano, voice and songwriting at a place called The Rock Shop. 

Her talent has not gone unnoticed by her elders. Even the great John Gorka, for whom she has opened in concert, calls Martin "a beauty of a singer."

She has played guitar since she was 8 but held off on pursing a career as a singer-songwriter until she met, during her college years, folk legend Susan Werner, who made her believe "I could do this."

She arrives at a time when scores of twenty-something women fill the coffeehouses and folk clubs of America with a sound sweetly reminiscent of the 1970s era of Mitchell, James Taylor, Carole King and Jackson Browne, who together shared the blessing of lucrative recording deals. 

Martin laughs at the fantasy of making even a fraction of the money that Mitchell, Taylor, King and Browne managed to make en route to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She may come no closer than singing Mitchell's songs as well as any woman alive. She collaborated with "recovering opera singer" Allison Shapira in recording the albumJoan & Joni, on which Martin sings Mitchell's "Morning Morgantown," "The Circle Game" and "A Case of You," which Martin calls her all-time favorite song.

"There is," she says, "an interesting paradox in the music business these days. Folk artists thrive on a one-on-one engagement with the listener. I'm not saying I wouldn't want to sell millions of records -- that would be great -- but there is something so incredibly rewarding about singing a song from your experience, from your heart to someone else's, then getting to share that experience and discuss it afterwards. That means everything to me."

Asheville Music Guide

Thursday was a quiet night at Isis Music Hall in West Asheville. Even though there was no show on the main stage that night, there was a surprise in store for patrons upstairs.

After a successful duo tribute show last December, Kipyn Martin returned to Asheville to showcase her own songwriting talent. The “Joan and Joni” themed show was a homage to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell that introduced Asheville music goers to Martin’s impressive singing voice.

The atmosphere in the lounge was relaxed with a mix of diners sitting at tables and folks sitting at the bar. Even Martin said she could smell everyone had made some delicious choices. She began with one of her quintessential numbers, Keep Your Lantern Lit. Her two sets were a mix of folk originals and a few covers ranging from blues to a few of those Joni hits.

There was no difficulty connecting her emotions and experiences pouring from songs. Martin spoke between numbers about some of the times in her life that spurred her to learn to write music. Growing up in the beautiful Shenandoah valley, she sang much about the beauty of an area not far different from Asheville. She’s currently in recording for her next release, which I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more of after getting a little preview during the show.

It felt like we all got the chance to know her a little by the end, the audience even got to help sing at one point. Martin could have kept singing for another two hours with no complaint if it wasn’t a weeknight show. Next time I hope she’ll fill the house on the main stage!

The Dallas Morning News

"Kipyn Martin entered my musical universe several months ago, when the one and only John Gorka raved about her on his Facebook page. I ordered her 2013 debut album as fast as I could, and … I was amazed. I especially love the song “Undone,” not only because of the Joni Mitchell-like songwriting but also the voice. Martin is blessed with a truly incredible voice.

That makes her latest effort, Joan & Joni, even more special. It’s a collaboration between Martin and “recovering opera singer” Allison Shapira. What gorgeous voices these women have and how closely they match one another. They chose to do the album, they say, because of the extraordinary impact that Mitchell and Baez have had on their careers."

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ChickenScratches

I first heard Kipyn Martin sing at the West Virginia Writers' summer conference in June 2012. I was bereft that day; my husband had moved out a month before, and on Sunday, my best friend Dorothy had passed away. I drove directly from her funeral to the conference wondering how I could endure the sadness I felt. 

That evening, I sat at the end of the first row in the auditorium and prepared to be entertained. A young woman with thick, shimmery gold hair that brushed against her waist climbed the stairs to the stage and picked up an acoustic guitar and strummed it lovingly. I don't remember in what order she performed the songs; I was transfixed. 

Every so often, musical magic happens. You know it when you hear it. 

To say Kipyn's voice is angelic is an understatement, a cliche almost too tired to stand, and yet that is precisely how it must be defined. Crystal clear like a late winter stream coursing down the side of a mountain, rich and honeyed, mellifluous, dulcet tones spread out and filled the room. A hush fell over the audience and we sat, enraptured, as she shared her compositions as well as some traditional folk music and blues. 

One original song, "Undone," touched my soul. By the last 'come undone,' the front of my blouse was spattered with tears I didn't even realize I had shed. Undone was exactly how I felt at that time. My life was upside-down. When I tried to picture my future, all I could see was a funhouse mirror reflection. My entire world had come undone, and I felt my ends unraveling.  


I’ve got two ends of myself to tie together
Stretched by endless tug of war
I’ve been pushed and pulled and pulled and pushed until this tether
Doesn’t want to hold anymore

Won’t you show me how,
How weathered ends, they can wind into one
Won’t you show me how
To weave a circle from these lines
Show me to not come undone, come undone

Ten months later, when I listened to her new CD the day it arrived in my mailbox,  I heard the hope and strength in the last verse. The speaker transcended her struggle, had received support, and once stronger offers support to her friend. Or at least that's how I take it. I, too, have gotten past the devastation and rebuilt myself with the support of dear friends, and stand ready to help others now.

Undercover Muse is a joy from start to finish. Folksy, blues -- I'm no good at labels. Think a cross between Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt. I'm no music critic so don't expect me to critique it. I give it two thumbs up and an American Bandstand rating of 98. I will say if you had the chance to buy Joni Mitchell's first recording, wouldn't you leap at the opportunity? Well, here's your chance to obtain a future collector's item.  Sample and purchase it here. ~~GH

Charleston Gazette

...Saturday night was supposed to end at the Del Sol Cantina with a concert by Pops Walker and Kipyn Martin, except when the two were done playing, we weren't done listening, so we moved their concert to the front porch of Don Steck and Tracy Rush's home.

For an evening I never wanted to end.

With my feet propped on a big, grinning dog, I was treated to some of the finest music I've ever experienced. These other folks are wildly talented, but Kipyn is something else. The most pure voice I've ever heard.