“Sometimes she’s a darlin’, and I love her so/ And at times you want to give her the big heave ho.” It might be tempting to read those lines as a husband’s complaint about his wife, but it’s actually no such thing. They’re lyrics from one of Krista Jenkins’ newer songs, “The Mare.”
“That’s what I’m calling a cowgirl rap ditty,” she said, sporting a Western button-down shirt and strumming her guitar during a rehearsal. She was kidding about the rap part, but her songs are definitely cowgirl, and some are definitely ditties. Jenkins sings about the physical and visual experiences of everyday ranch life—crickets singing lullabies at sunset, a hot cup of coffee, morning chores and midnight moons. Her compositions have an oratory style a lot like those of the West’s cowboy poets—and all the affinity for the hardworking country life you could fit into a song.
Her meticulously controlled voice goes quiet and dreamy, strong like a crooner, or, most often, all the way back in time to the early days of country music.
“Country music has diverged away from what we do,” said her music partner, John Margolin, a veterinarian who plays mandolin. “There was a time when this was country music, and now country music is pop. It merged into pop.” But there’s not a note of pop, Americana, cowpunk or any other aftermarket variation to this duo’s sounds. It’s straight-up country and western.
“I love to yodel,” Jenkins said. It’s a technique not particularly common among women singers, but certainly not unheard of. She listed the likes Patsy Montana and Carolina Cotton from the 1940s and 50s. “I don’t want to say it’s a lost art,” she said. “But you don’t hear a lot of it around here.”
Margolin is currently the other half of Jenkins’ band, All Hat No Cattle. (They may add a bass player in the near future.)
“She doesn’t look that old, but she’s been here since the 1850s,” he joked, smiling and strumming. Jenkins’ family emigrated from Germany then. Her family has run a ranch in Gardnerville ever since, and that’s where she grew up and got her start in music.
“Every since I was itty bitty I just loved country-western,” she said. “I started playing probably in junior high. I taught myself how to play the guitar.” But her performance history goes back even further. At around age 4 or 5 she was with her father at the Owl Club in Battle Mountain. It was morning, the bar was empty, and she was easily talked into taking the stage.
“I sang ’Blood on the Saddle,’ ’All Around the Water Tank,’ and ’Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’” she said. “I call that my first professional gig, ’cause I got paid a Coke.”
Nowadays her set lists might include a few covers—“I do a little bit of Emmylou Harris, a little bit of everything,” she said—and a lot of original songs.
She prefers quieter venues to louder bars, so she’s selective about where she schedules gigs. In June, she’s planning to open for Lacey J. Dalton. She and Margolin play together at the Red Dog Saloon on occasion—where he also hosts open mics—and the duo is planning to play some daytime shows as part of the Genoa Cowboy Festival, which will be headlined by Tom Russell, Dave Stamey, Mike Beck and The Quebe Sisters. And if plans fall into place the way she hopes they will, she may well end up starring in a Carson Valley production of the musical, Always Patsy Cline in 2018.