To some extent, the recordings and live shows of Kristina Olsen are the result of her childhood in the musically fertile San Francisco of the 1960s, where she was exposed to blues, psychedelic rock, folk, and a variety of other styles. She is as comfortable with a self-penned acoustic ballad as she is with a gritty, classic blues tune by Robert Johnson. Olsen plays guitar and piano, but also plays 13 other instruments, most of which can be heard on her various recordings, which feature well-known traditional songs and blues as well as her own compositions.
Olsen grew up in the heart of Haight-Ashbury in the '60s, and she's based herself in Venice, CA since the late '80s. Her first big break might well have been winning the New Folk contest at the Kerrville [Texas] Folk Festival in 1985, where she met fellow folk-blues singer Michelle Shocked. Olsen can be heard playing hammer dulcimer on Shocked's debut for PolyGram, Short Sharp Shocked. Olsen continued to build her reputation as a live performer in coffeehouses and at folk festivals around the U.S. and Canada until she landed a deal with Philo Records in the early '90s. Her self-titled debut was released in 1992, and her other releases for Philo/Rounder Records include Love, Kristina (1993), Hurry on Home (1995), and Live from Around the World (1997). All are stunning displays of her skill as a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter. Olsen writes topical songs like "Gay Friends," "Prop. 187," and "TV Free America" on her latest album, but earlier releases like Love, Kristina show more of her jazzy, bluesy side.