As Homer wrote it, the singing of female spirits known as sirens was so captivating that sailors would become entranced, shipwrecking their vessels as they sailed into the rocky coasts of their island lair. Ulysses made his crew block their own ears and tie him to the mast so he could hear their singing as they sailed safely past.

Devotees of certain gifted female singer/songwriters don’t have to take such drastic measures to enjoy the perfection of their vocal skills. Case in point: Long Island’s Kirsten Maxwell. A siren in her own right, her voice sounds like a cross between Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell with some Judy Collins added. Her delicate finger-style guitar work provides a fitting counterpoint to those aforementioned vocal skills. Her finely honed performance skills add to the thrill of seeing her in person.


A small iconic structure had a part to play in the development of Kirsten Maxwell. Throughout my time in New York City — I moved to this area in 1979 — I drove up the Bowery, passing the now-defunct Amato Opera House hundreds of times (it closed in 2007). It was a narrow white building with filigreed wrought iron in bricked-up windows and old-fashioned lettering proclaiming “Amato Opera .” As the world’s smallest opera house, it provided an intimacy in place of huge spectacle. I couldn’t possibly know that, within its walls, the perfection of Kirsten Maxwell was taking shape during the 1990s. Her father was director of the Amato children’s chorus and her mother, a singer, performed roles there (it was where they met). Kirsten was born in 1992 and while training with the chorus, also performed children’s roles from age 5 to 13. She learned how to sing in Italian and French, how to hold pitch and sing in harmony with other parts and how to be on stage.

Her family lived in Manhattan for two years, then moved to Sunnyside, Queens. When she was 13, her mother and step-father relocated to Huntington, LI. “Both of my parents remarried, and I’m lucky enough to have two really supportive step-parents in my life,” she stated.

During high school in Huntington, Kirsten’s enthusiasm switched to musical theater. She performed in plays such as “Gypsy,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Pajama Game.” During her spare time, using her mother’s guitar, she was also learning to play and write her own songs. She’d been doing this for some time, but it took until the age of 14 for it to really kick in. “I needed it to click,” she said. At 18, Kirsten made a two-song demo, planting the seed as a singer/songwriter a little deeper. Encouraged by her high school music teacher, Jason Giachetti, to continue her studies in classical singing — he gave her extra tutoring in music theory — Kirsten auditioned at a music school but was not accepted, so she switched gears to pursue writing and literature.

Kirsten spent two years in upstate New York, first at State University of New York at Potsdam, then two years at SUNY Geneseo, where she graduated with a degree in creative writing. She got her first gig at a campus coffeehouse while at Potsdam. Although she still hadn’t decided on pursuing a career in performing as a singer/songwriter, it continued to gel in an organic fashion. Mostly, pertaining to her current career, she attended open mics and enjoyed the support of the singer/songwriter community while continuing to write songs.

After graduation in 2014, she returned to Huntington and picked up with attending open mics and seeking gigs locally and in Manhattan. She continued to add the building blocks, going to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (she won an Emerging Artist showcase “most wanted to return” slot in 2017) and attending the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference.

With her parents’ help, she found a studio and made her first album, Crimson (2015). It’s a beautiful expression of love and loss. In the title track, she sings over pristine guitar notes with heartbreaking eloquence … we were left to fall / no branch to break us / only sky to take us / but the ground gets closer every day. She painted her self-portrait for the cover while listening repeatedly to John Gorka’s vintage album Land of the Bottom Line for inspiration (I wonder if John ever thought he’d inspire visual artistic expression that way).

Kirsten will be attending this year’s NERFA conference again (Nov. 9-13). She’s been selected for a prestigious formal showcase slot and will appear in Acoustic Live’s guerrilla late-night Friday showcase room as well. She has a new EP, co-produced with singer/songwriter Carley Ridini (SEE), that we’re eagerly awaiting.  This is going to be an exciting fall. More than that, it’s going to be an exciting career for Kirsten Maxwell. Her star is only just beginning to rise. See her now before this siren’s song becomes expensive.