TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute surprised Christina Blust.
Fresh out of Xavier University, her degree in graphic design landed Blust a job just outside the city. She didn’t know what to expect at her new workplace, a convent known as the Sisters of Providence in the nearby village of St. Mary-of-the-Woods. She wondered if the oft-maligned Terre Haute held any outlets for her artistic and musical interests.
Three years later, Blust still lives and works here. This month, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter released her debut album, “Sudden Amaryllis.”
She discovered an energetic, talented arts and music community. The sisters proved to be a vibrant, witty group of women. And this small, Midwestern city turned out to be friendly.
“Once I saw the faces and saw the common ground, I found more of a community of people,” Blust said, “and not one of people just driving around and not paying attention to each other.
“There’s an honesty here,” she added.
The Wabash Valley flows through her 14-song album, with lyrical tributaries stretching to Iraq, her hometown of Dayton, Ky., and other points in between. The tracks depict images seen through Blust’s eyes, usually framed by black spectacles.
The song “Cradle” exemplifies the seriousness of her poetic lyrics. Blust wrote it after her art history class heard about libraries and museums being destroyed during the Iraq war. “The libraries of Mesopotamia burn, so does the body of a country,” she sings.
On “Tumor,” Blust challenges cancer, a disease that struck her mother and sister within one week. She tells the invasive illness, in the song, that is has mistaken its status, and that “you will not spread; you will die for love instead.”
“It’s one of the most personal songs that I’ve written. I wrote it for myself, I think,” Blust explained, “and then it started to resonate with others, rather unexpectedly.”
Her songs resonated, rather unexpectedly, with a pair of astute music aficionados during an open-mic night a few years ago at The Coffee Grounds in Terre Haute. As Dave Goodier and Don Arney sat listening, Blust took her turn, guitar in hand, strumming and singing her original music. “We noticed almost immediately that she had extremely intelligent lyrics, and, not to mention, quite catchy tunes,” Goodier recalled.
He told Arney, a veteran of nearly 30 years as a producer of local artists, “We’ve got to record this girl.”
The process of creating “Sudden Amaryllis” began soon afterward. At the outset, Blust’s sound was essentially a young woman and her folk guitar. Arney, who maintains Quantum Productions Studio in his southern Vigo County home, began assembling a corps of Terre Haute musicians to expand the arrangements of Blust’s songs. They came from bands Arney and Goodier have worked with in the past, including Cuba, Native Mind and Derailed.
“We were able to hand-pick musicians, like we were in Nashville or something,” said Goodier, who co-produced the album with Arney and Blust.
Working with a band was a new experience for Blust. “The songs are still there,” Arney said, “but the transformation is amazing.
“I think it’s an amazing album,” he added. “First, she’s got a wonderful voice, and you add to that some really substantial songwriting ability, and that’s a combination that’s really hard to beat.”
Blust began writing the music that became “Sudden Amaryllis” in 2005, and that process continued as she moved from the Cincinnati area to Terre Haute, as she started working in the Sisters of Providence Volunteer Mission in 2006, and as she began recording the album with Arney, Goodier and the Terre Haute guitarists and percussionists in January 2007.
“The songs that ended up on the album are about time, and meeting people, and the places you go, and how none of us can avoid being changed by that,” she said.
The sisters affected Blust, and her sound.
“When I landed in a convent in Terre Haute, I didn’t know what to expect,” she recalled.
Though Blust was raised Catholic, she had little exposure to nuns. But she quickly learned “just how fun they are, and how interestingly they look at the world. It’s really just a fun place, and an exciting time to be here.”
The photographs adorning the CD’s jacket show Blust resting in a shady spot of grass, beneath large trees, on a sunny day near the cemetery at St. Mary-of-the-Woods. That resting place surfaces in the disc’s ninth track, “Providence,” where “yesterday watches you smile, and every word is providence.”
Terre Haute, The Woods and the local people play roles in Blust’s writing.
“I feel like I’m directly influenced — transparently and almost embarrassingly — by what’s around me,” she said.
That connection led to an album whose genre is best described, Goodier said, as “librarian rock. It’s got such intelligent lyrics, but it’s still rock.”
Its artful emphasis runs from the succinct lyrics and understated arrangements to the intricate jacket design. The disc was released independently — without financial support from a record label — on Oct. 17, yet has the look and feel of a top-shelf, retail offering. Blust is less concerned with mass appeal than sparking the spirits of those who hear her songs, even if that’s limited to the Terre Haute community and online visitors to her Web site — www.christinablust.com.
“I have no aspirations of being a star or famous,” she said, “but I would like something I create to mean something to other people.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finding a copy
“Sudden Amaryllis,” the new album by Terre Haute singer-songwriter Christina Blust, is available for digital download purchase at Digstation. The 14-song CD can be purchased through www.christinablust.com.
The words adorning the 14 songs on Terre Haute singer-songwriter Christina Blust’s first full-length album transcend mere lyrics. Read more of Mark Bennett’s review of Blust’s work on Friday in Sites & Sounds.
TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute surprised Christina Blust.
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