Since Rihanna burst into pop consciousness in the mid-2000s, she’s been such a pervasive force not only in music but in our culture in general that the mere thought of the Caribbean island of Barbados brings to mind only her and her staggering statistics – 250 million records sold worldwide, 14 #1s and 31 top-ten singles, nine Grammys, 13 American Music Awards and being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world twice. Since Rihanna’s been around, just one other female Barbadian singer, Shontelle, rose to some level of notoriety, and even that was minor and fairly short lived. If there were any other talented island girls inspired to follow in the legend’s footsteps, they’ve either been silent or way under the radar.
Blissfully, that’s now changing with the emergence of the high spirited, super sultry and spirited Kristina Murrell, who’s established herself as an intoxicatingly fresh, edgy slow jam princess and phenomenal romantic storyteller – and quite possibly, the next-gen Barbadian star - with her impactful 2021 full length debut. True to its title, her powerful, rangy voice and compelling, emotional lyrics are all about an intense yet artful expression of Passion & Pain. The collection hit #1 on the iTunes chart on her native island and earned her the Bronze Award at the Global Music Awards for Vocal Performance and R&B. The single “Stronger” received a nomination in Best R&B/Soul/Funk from the Hollywood Music and Media Awards.
Kristina, who has lived in the U.S. since age 15, quickly followed the album with what has become her most popular single, the seductive, hypno-exotic, island vibin’ “Let Me Drive” (featuring rapper VanityWyze), which finds her taking command of not an auto but a boat (as only a true island girl can!) and quite possibly our hearts as she entices us to hop on for a wild ride. This track is the perfect invitation – and optimal entry point – for her sonically rich and expansive, infectiously soulful and sparklingly produced full length follow-up whose clever title, Beautiful Disaster, speaks to the messiness of the relationships she expounds upon even as she conveys the thoughtful sentiments of those in a refreshing, delightful way. Both albums are released by Music for Love International, a label known for its global humanitarian efforts.
Because it’s very different in tone and rhythmic energy from the other 11 tracks on this generous set, the obvious choice for the next single would be the title track, which begins in stark piano vocal ballad mode but quickly dives into a thumping, instantly engaging hard edged contemporary disco groove and the artist using the often soaring high register of her voice to convey the head vs. heart dilemma of what it’s like to be “falling faster” into the complicated rabbit hole of a beautiful disaster.
From the hopeful, lush vocal harmony driven opening track “Chances” through the sparse, atmospheric and haltingly percussive (and wildly metaphorical) “Drug of Choice,” an uber romantic seduction under a “Strawberry Moon” and on through the dreamy perseverance anthem “Solid,” most of the other gems and jams occupy a sexy, deeply atmospheric mid-tempo world full of unexpected and artsy ambient pleasures (from male voices and finger-snaps to snappy Caribbean tinged synth flavors) and balmy delicacies that make this the perfect laid back summer romance album. The fact that five of the tunes (nearly half the album) roll on single world titles speaks to the directness with which Kristina reveals and unveils her truest heart.
There will forever be only one Rihanna, and Kristina’s bio even acknowledges that “she re ceives creative inspiration from a number of artists such as fellow Barbados born superstar…” But as this incredible artist continues to grow, evolve, warm our souls and command our musical attention, it will be fascinating to see just how much extra Barbadian pop magic she can bring to the world.