Kyshona Armstrong honed her craft in the state mental hospital. Not as an inmate, but as a teacher. She broadened her musical healing abilities in prisons and also in schools, working with children diagnosed with emotional behavior disorders.
The singer, who records under her first name, has said that she never wanted to be in the spotlight. Armstrong had aspirations to be a psychologist, but a music scholarship opened up new possibilities for her in the field of musical therapy. She eventually realized that her message could do good from the stage as well. The South Carolina native moved to Nashville in 2014 after a stint in Athens, Georgia’s singer-songwriter community. With a voice that hovers between Joan Armatrading and Ruthie Foster with the sensibilities of Mavis Staples embedded in her lyrics, Armstrong’s gospel/soul/rock/folk blend is on display in 2014’s Go, 2016’s Ride, and now her latest, Listen.
“Worried Mind” is a bombastic, gospel-drenched message that sounds like Mavis sitting in with The Band, hopping back and forth across the aisle from gospel to soul. “We the People” also sounds like a Mavis-fueled agenda, a marching anthem that urges fighting injustice and discrimination beginning at the grassroots level led by a rousing chorus of “stand up for your rights.”
“Marching On” belongs in the Staples Family freedom fighter canon as well, a declaration of dedication to the civil rights cause with one foot in the church and the other in the streets.
On the title cut, Kyshona urges people within the sound of her voice to start their activism by the simple act of listening: “I know you wanna help / but you’re deaf to the mission / Even when you see the hand I’m dealt / You pretend it’s my decision.”
“Too Much” sounds like an Allen Toussaint composition performed by The Pointer Sisters, a funk- soaked second line strut with Kyshona preachin’ like a churchy Mardi Gras diva.
This is protest music for a new generation, a musical treatment for social ills, a unique prescription that only works if you listen.