Artist of the Month

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October 2015
The Grisly Hand
"Flesh and Gold
Few Kansas City bands have been not only respected but embraced by critics, fans, and fellow musicians of many genres the way The Grisly Hand has over the past few years. Formed in 2009, the band released the album Safe House in 2010, Western Ave. EP in 2012, and then followed those with the stellar and regionally successful Country Singles in 2013. The latter cemented The Grisly Hand’s position as one of the best acts in Kansas City, and probably should have launched them onto a national stage.
There may be just one slight problem—they don’t exactly fit the mold of any one genre. Typically billed as Americana, the band’s first three releases were undeniably country music. Not the contemporary crap you avoid at all costs on your radio dial, but more traditional twang, with perfectly harmonized vocals, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, a potent walking bass, and shuffling beats. It’s not cry-in-your-beer country, but mainly up-tempo tunes that—like a lot of old-school southern music—contain elements of rock, soul, and pop. Music that, despite its wide local appeal, is not exactly sought after by major record labels.
The Grisly Hand’s latest offering, Flesh and Gold, is a different direction for the group. There is an obvious attempt to lessen the country feel by moving to a more straightforward rock ‘n roll sound than present on previous albums. There’s a bit less twanging and a little more banging, but the songs are still well-crafted. Lead vocalists Jimmy Fitzner and Lauren Krum (Ben Summers takes the mic on the third track, “Regina”) harmonize like two people who have spent their entire lives singing together. The musicianship of Fitzner and Summers (guitar and guitar/mandolin, respectively), along with Mike Stover (pedal steel/bass), Dan Loftus (bass/keys), and Matt Richey (drums) continues to be top-notch.
Flesh and Gold opens with the familiar, beautiful ring of Fitzner and Krum, singing in front of a lone electric guitar on “Get in Line, Stranger.” The rest of the band soon kicks in, and the song proceeds to become what the majority of the album is—a very solid collection of catchy, mid-tempo, alt-country tunes; some of which could be accused of leaning towards (gasp) pop rock.
Possibly the most enjoyable cut on the album is the no-nonsense, driving rock song, “Regina.” Summers’ vocals, though not quite as refined as Fitzner’s, are laced with passion as he sings about the insecurities and immaturity of youth. “You probably don’t want to follow me down, because I’m a fucked up kid without a plan / Shows me why you do the things you can.” The track is vibrant and pulsating—Krum’s backing vocals give Summers’ voice some added depth, and Stover’s killer steel guitar solo supplies just enough southern touch. This could be a very radio-friendly song.
Some risks are taken by tackling a couple of heavy topics. “Brand New Bruise,” a ballad turned barroom blues rocker, is about a woman with an abusive partner. I was prepared for a clichéd country triumph about a gritty woman teaching her old man a lesson. Instead, the song reveals a sad dose of reality; a worn woman who doesn’t know where to turn. “You can say you’re sorry again, you can bury me down in the ground / Just know whichever way you choose…either way I lose.” “Satan Ain’t Real” is perhaps a jab at Christianity and the guilt it causes, or maybe just a way of telling people not to be too hard on themselves or each other. “Satan ain’t real, it’s just what we blame when we can’t explain why fellow men hurt us like they do, without remorse / Just know it’s all in your head, and it ain’t ever too late for you to break away.” The song is also one of the more intriguing numbers musically. Somewhere between a Bossa nova and a Cajun ditty, the relaxing groove, filled with mandolin and steel guitar, implores the listener to set their troubles aside.
“Regrets on Parting,” the record’s final track, is by far the most surprising. It is a soul song at heart, and could be mistaken for something coming out of Memphis in the ‘60s. Fitzner and Krum’s harmonizing is at its best here. The real surprise is the addition of a horn section comprised of Nick Howell (trumpet), Mike Walker (trombone), and Rich Wheeler (saxophone). It’s a fantastic, if completely unexpected, song. Maybe it’s no accident that this is the last song, as it could be foreshadowing of things to come on future recordings. (Editor’s note: Flesh & Gold is the first part of a double album that is slated for in early 2016)
Flesh and Gold is a very good standalone album. There isn’t a single song that isn’t thought out and dialed-in, as any fan would expect. Had I never heard any of the The Grisly Hand’s previous work, I would go as far as to call this output great. However, I know what the band is capable of, and couldn’t help longing for a few of the things that made Country Singles so special. For example: the dialogue between Fitzner and Krum on “(If You’re Leavin’) Take the Trash Out [When You Go],” the infectious energy of “If You Say So,” or the moving beauty of “Coup de Coeur.” Despite this, I understand the need for change, applaud the band for moving outside of their comfort zone, and feel extremely confident about the future of The Grisly Hand.

--Brad Scott  

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Show review: Crossroads Music Festival, 9.8.12

Show review: Crossroads Music Festival, 9.8.12

(Photo of Rural Grit All-Stars at The Brick, taken by Michelle Bacon)

By the time I had made it to the Crossroads Music Festival, entertainment was in full swing. I had opted to take the "knowledge" approach to the fest, seeking out only bands that I had yet to experience. Thankfully, the lineup was packed with fresh names, mostly due to my overwhelming tendency to not leave my house.

Due to a pants/dryer fiasco that had plagued me for the better portion of the evening the first set I was able to catch was The Hillary Watts Riot at the Midwestern Musical Company stage. The first thing I noticed while walking in was the room. With guitars at every angle and pop art and vintage toys lining the walls, the space is easily in the running for Kansas City’s best hidden gem. Shove the extremely energetic Hillary Watts Riot in the room and you’ve got a winning combo. Though the band will fuck with your mind like a drunken kitten, the Devo meets B-52 mashup is the type of music you have to stop, think over, digest, process, then accept. However, unique is the fact that while deep and complex it remains fun and approachable on the surface. With a pinup doll look and sunglasses-at-night image, the pedal-heavy band kicks in your teeth with plenty of reverb and a chaotic sound. With glimpses of punk reflecting off the glitters of glam, the band’s sound bounces all over the place. 1990s sound bites bleed through the 1980s influences. Mixed with their witty banter, this band is entertainment at its best. Show up to catch them if not only to catch their drummer (Sergio Moreno) rock his flashlight hands mid-set.

From there, I wandered downtown towards The Brick to catch Victor & Penny. I had wanted to catch their antique pop set for a while, but could never manage to get their schedule to align with mine. In addition, their tour schedule has been nothing to scoff at. Neither is their live act. Victor (Jeff Freling), who runs his vocals through a vintage throwback radio, is a treat to watch. His guitar chops are stout and his rockabilly licks are well-rehearsed and down pat. Paired with the beautiful Penny (Erin McGrane), who rocks a tiny uke and a sunshine smile, the group is unstoppable and refreshing. Her act has a bit of snarl to it, growling when you least expect it. She is also in full control of her facial expressions, turning them on at all the appropriate moments. She is the perfect front lady and in full control of her craft. She knows her charms and makes certain that her audience is enlightened of them as well, as she swims through her 100-year-old material. Of all the sets of the night, this one was the hardest to leave early.

Begrudgingly, I meandered toward the Czar Bar to catch John Velgne & The Prodigal Sons. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get a fair judgment of their sound due to an overwhelmingly extreme use of soundboard. Turned up to 11, the band’s layers and depth were missing, buried somewhere in a clutter of echo and earplugs. You could, however, gather the way the horns filled the room. Making note of their E Street ways, I gave my ears a break and headed back toward Midwestern Musical Company’s setup for Dim Peepers.

Sporting a suitcase bass drum, kazoos, a homemade washtub bass and tiny horns, Dim Peepers won my heart and the award for the fest’s most unique band. With a fantastic do-it-yourself sound, the band owned the room, the crowd, and in my humble opinion, the fest. Requesting that I not be afraid to get drunk and make a fool of myself, I lived wildly. I didn’t take notes and instead danced a little. Just a touch. Not enough to be noticed or lose my reclusive wallflower status, but enough to feel silly. Good times.

From there, I lurked at the Midwest Music Foundation tent, listening to Hearts of Darkness and watching cougars shimmy across the parking lot. Even from my lawn chair, I found the set enjoyable. The female vocals belted across the city skyline as people danced (poorly and drunkenly) in the wood chips. After a nice break, I bolted for Appropriate Grammar down the street.

Shifty eyed and crooked smiled, the band brought its best chops and left their R-rated jokes at home (due to parents in the room). With great guitar riffs and power-pop hooks slamming into the occasional alt-country structure, the band is somewhat unique to Kansas City. Think Rhett Miller without the band bleeding all over the stage emotionally. The charming female "ohs" blended well with the male vocals and seemed to fit flawlessly over the band’s epic drum usage. Sadly, battling Hearts of Darkness, the band played one of the fest’s most promising sets to an almost empty room. Take note of that and catch them when you can.

Starhaven Rounders would serve as my next adventure of the evening. I mean, can you think of a better follow up to power-pop than a country cover band? Nope. I didn’t think so.

There is a bit of irony to my catching this set. As I sat in The Brick in a purple emo hoodie, rocking a fairly impressive-sized jewfro, one would never assume me the type to catch the latest gossip at the honky-tonks of Nash Vegas. But honestly, is there anything better than a good, solid country band? With slide guitar, violin (called a fiddle in this case) and sad bastard lyrics. The interactions of a good country band are without question better than anything that any other genre can offer. There is nothing more real in music. Hearing our local member crank out Don Williams, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash makes me both proud and disappointed in Kansas City. This sound is something we could use more of (says the emo kid). We can debate this if you want, but before we do, I challenge you to catch this band and tell me that they don’t possess some of the finest instrumentation in the 816.

If you can debate convincingly, I’ll buy you a beer. I’ll be the one wearing the cat shirt.

The Hillary Watts Riot at Midwestern Musical Company (Photo by Michelle Bacon)

Bill Sundahl, Crossroads Music Fest organizer (Photo by Todd Zimmer)

Kasey Rausch, Mikal Shapiro, and Shane Ogren at Czar (Photo by Michelle Bacon)

Thom Hoskins at Midwestern Musical Company (Photo by Todd Zimmer)

The Supernauts at Crossroads KC at Grinder's (Photo by Todd Zimmer)

--Joshua Hammond

After stints drumming for both The Afternoons and Jenny Carr and the Waiting List in the Lawrence/Kansas City music scene, Joshua Hammond found his footing as a music journalist, launching the national publication Popwreckoning. After running the show as Editor in Chief for 6 years, Hammond stepped away from the reigns to freelance for other publications like Under The Gun Review and High Voltage Magazine. This shift allowed the adequate amount of time for him to write passionately, allow the Kansas City Royals to break his heart on a daily basis and spoon his cats just enough that they don't shred his vinyl. 

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