Karyn Oliver, winner of the 2020 South Florida Folk Festival Songwriters’ Competition, is part Joan Osborne, a touch of Janis Joplin and a bit of Emmylou Harris – effortlessly oscillating from bluesy to country and back. Her musical inspirations come primarily from the eclectic mix of music to which she was exposed while growing up in the musically diverse culture of Washington, D.C. Her influences include Duke Ellington, Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eva Cassidy, Marvin Gaye and Roberta Flack among several other DC native artists.
Born and raised in Beltsville, MD, Oliver first picked up the guitar at age 12 and started writing her own songs at age 14. She studied voice and guitar for several years, performing in chamber ensembles, musical theater and a few local rock bands. Living in Baltimore from 1988-2011, Oliver formed her own band in 2001 and began building her fan base, attracting fans of folk, blues, rock and country with her memorable melodies, sophisticated arrangements, deeply personal lyrics, and vocal fireworks. She became an active contributor to the acoustic and Americana music scene in the Baltimore-DC area, as a past President and board member of the Baltimore Songwriters Association, and as the host of WLOY radio’s The Mobtown Couch from 2005 to 2011. Oliver’s weekly radio show featured singer-songwriters with a particular emphasis on homegrown Baltimore musicians.
Oliver’s music has been featured on radio stations in both the U.S. and Europe, including WLOY, WRYR, Radio Crystal Blue, Moray Firth Radio, The Upper Room with Joe Kelley, and Radio Parkstad. Oliver has also performed live on Maryland Public Television’s MPT Artworks, and Radio Midvliet in Den Haag. Executives from Sennheiser were so impressed with the quality of her voice that they requested permission to use her songs to demonstrate the quality of their Neumann brand recording microphones.
In 2009, Karyn Oliver moved to a town called Boring, MD with a broken heart and a cheap guitar. From there she created her first solo album, Red Dress, for which she was named a Kerrville New Folk Finalist and Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist in 2011, as well as the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest winner. In 2011, Oliver moved to New York City, with a much renewed heart and a much better guitar named Roxann. She created her latest solo album, Magdalene, and became a Kerrville New Folk Finalist for a second time in 2106. .
John Platt, former Program Director of WFUV in NYC, says “Karyn Oliver has been a key member of the Baltimore and now New York folk music communities, but it’s in Nashville that she’s found a studio home, with Thomm Jutz supplying tasteful production to a fine collection of songs on Karyn’s [latest] album, Magdalene.”
Ron Olesko of WFDU calls Magdalene “a gorgeous CD!” and states, “The soulful and seductive voice of Karyn Oliver mesmerizes the listener with an intimate assembly of songs that celebrate the touches of saints and sinners that exist in all of us and examine the rewards that come from taking risks.”
Critics also rave about Oliver’s vocals. Allan Harrison of Maverick Magazine, says, “Karyn Oliver certainly appears to have the voice and writing skills to ride in their slipstream until the time is right for her to take over.” Richard Cucarro of Acoustic Live, describes Oliver’s voice as “Janis Joplin without the rasp or perhaps Lucinda Williams on steroids…with that powerful instrument, she could be a star in the rock arena. Her voice has a swagger.”
Oliver’s Magdalene album reached #5 on the Roots Music Report’s Folk Internet Airplay Top 50, #8 on the RMR NY: Roots Radio Airplay Chart, and #18 on the RMR Folk Top 50. Magdalene was also a #21 Top Album and the title track was #17 Top Song for May, 2013. The album was featured on the New Release Rack of the Alternate Root in July of 2013. The title track, Magdalene, has been selected by Lufthansa Airlines Inflight Program for their Country/Americana/Folk Playlist.
In addition to her solo project, Oliver is currently part of the nationally touring Americana/folk group, No Fuss and Feathers. Oliver is deeply dedicated to her folk community, a fact demonstrated by her 6 year term on the board of The North East Regional Folk Alliance. 2017 brought Oliver to North Carolina, where she is steeping herself in the great writers of the South. She recorded a new album, A List Of Names, that is currently charting on both Folk (#8 in February!) and Americana radio.
“The fire of a Folk musician is at the heart of the stories on ‘A List of Names.’ (The CD) shifts sounds, blending diverse styles guided by the vocal drive of Karyn Oliver.” – The Alternate Root
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