July 9, 2009


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Girl with guitar
Caribbean groove from Christa Renee Mansmann
By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

In a time when record producers and venue promoters hedge their bets on artists with more style than substance, it can be tough being a girl with a guitar. It can be difficult to break into a heavy rock-and-metal scene like Manchester’s, said Christa Renee Mansmann, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who specializes in what she calls “Caribbean groove” accentuated by politics- and emotion-driven lyrics. But with more and more shows under her belt, she’s winning over local audiences with greater ease.

“I’m not tooting my own horn, but I think it’s enjoyable, it’s diverse,” she said. “Having played different places, people seem to be into it. If you’re into hard, heavy music, I don’t know if you’re necessarily going to dig that. But there have people that I know who have listened to my stuff and have been like, ‘Yeah, I can feel that.’”

A veteran of Licks and Kicks, a group she founded with sister Tara in New Jersey, Mansmann grew up in a house with a musical mother from Jamaica and in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood with diverse influences. Madonna and Michael Jackson in her youth and the grunge phenomenon in her late teens all helped the fledgling guitarist define her sound.

“I had these crazy influences all around me,” she said, “and it soaked in and now it’s spewing out of me.”

Helping her to deliver her melting pot sound are bassist Pete Gustafson, drummer Jeff Costello and percussionist Les Lumley. Gustafson currently plays in Scalawag, for whom the Christa Renee Band will open at Penuche’s in Manchester on July 17. For him, performing with a singer-songwriter like Mansmann is a way of branching out musically.

“I wanted to do something completely different from the bands I’ve been in, and I wanted to play a different kind of music than the kind I typically play,” Gustafson said. “I think that her style of writing is very personal to her, but the way it’s presented is very accessible to the listener.”

In her newest musical incarnation, Mansmann is continuing to write the type of politically charged songs that defined Licks and Kicks. In the wake of 9/11 and George W. Bush’s first term in office, the band was a way for the sisters Mansmann to voice their frustration with the world at the time. Eight years later, Christa Renee said she still likes to shed light on controversial topics in her songwriting.

“Not that I have anything against happy songs, but I think the music itself can be kind of uplifting,” she said. “If you have a chance to say something to people, I’d rather say something powerful or moving than waste that.”

Mansmann hopes to get her music across to more people when she steps into the recording studio this month under the aegis of Kenny Lewis, a producer based in Middleton, Mass.

“Because of the stuff that I do, it’s hard to find the right person that really gets it,” she said. “With [Lewis], I feel like we’ll get the quality song that we can get on the radio.”

She’s also careful to give equal credit to her bandmates. Currently a member of Crashgirl, Costello has drummed in a variety of bands across the Granite State but said that Mansmann won him over with her sense of melody, rhythm and overall musical feel.

“She’s got a nice, refreshing style,” he said. “She’s difficult to pigeonhole … I’ve been in other bands where producers listen to the demo and say, ‘How would we market you?’ Her stuff doesn’t all sound the same, but you can easily go from one song to the next on an album and it would make sense.”

In her own estimation, Mansmann’s sound has helped her carve a niche for herself: “I think I have a pretty unique style. There’s not a lot of what I do out there that I hear.”

The Christa Renee Band will play on Thursday, July 9, at The Blue Mermaid, 409 The Hill in Portsmouth and at 9 p.m. on Friday, July 17, at Penuche’s Ale House, 96 Hanover St. in Manchester. Learn more about Christa Renee at www.myspace.com/christarenee.