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September 2014
Katy Guillen & the Girls
"Katy Guillen & the Girls
"
mp3
Normally when I discover a band for the first time, I listen to their album first, then go see them live. In the case of Katy Guillen & The Girls’ new release, the situation's been reversed. I saw them live a couple of times before the album was released, so I was interested to hear if the record was going to capture the ferocity of their live performances. I have to confess that my hearing is not in the best of shape, and, due to a poor sound mix at what shall be an unnamed Lawrence venue, I never got to hear the words or even the melodies properly live at the most recent concert I attended. But upon hearing the self-titled LP, it’s nice to hear that Guillen can write literate lyrics to these songs I've heard played out.
 
The album opener, "Don't Get Bitter," hearkens back to the sound and feel of the Beatles' "Taxman," with Claire Adams' bass introducing the song. It's short, catchy, and lasts exactly as long as it should. If there were a single release off this album, this would be it.
 
This record is no-frills. It's the band pretty much as you hear them live, with the mix capturing a live in-studio sound. What strikes me listening to this record is that Katy and the Girls are not strictly a blues band. There's certainly an infusion of the blues in what they do, but, to my ears, they hearken back to some of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s hard rock bands like Mountain and Free, but with better lyrics and songs. I also hear some White Stripes in there somewhere. The melodies and harmonies are accentuated and they help blend with the powerful playing.
 
Katy Guillen, Claire Adams, and Stephanie Williams fill up a lot of space in these songs. It's obvious they are all very well in sync and have that great intuitive blend that comes from playing lots of live gigs together. I also like the changes in some of the songs, which go in directions you don't expect, like "Woke Up In Spain," which switches tempo adroitly.
 
The absolute masterpiece of this album is the last song, “Earth Angel.” It's the longest tune on the album, but it doesn't feel long. It starts out with Guillen’s dirty-sounding guitar intro, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," and builds in intensity as it moves along. Guillen takes one hell of a solo during this song. It's obvious from hearing this record that she is an excellent guitarist but never overplays during the songs. But when the song calls for a lengthy solo, like "Earth Angel," sparks fly. The rest of the band is equally as adept. Adams’ bass lines are nimble and fit right in place with Williams’ active drum work. It's a pleasure to hear a band that obviously loves to play together rolling through these songs. The album’s producer (Duane Trower at Weights & Measures Soundlab) captures the clarity of the music as well as the power of a live performance.
 

--Barry Lee

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Album review: Claire and the Crowded Stage - Technicolor (EP)

Album review: Claire and the Crowded Stage - Technicolor (EP)

Technicolor opens with the quirky and cleverly written “Tower of Babel,” which sets an intriguing backdrop for the EP. And two things are immediately made clear about Claire and the Crowded Stage. First, the band’s handler, Claire Adams, does not need a crowded stage to capture an audience’s attention—her voice alone will do the job. And, second, nothing about this band is superficial. Its music is a unique combination of raw emotion and refined sound. The nine-piece, coupled with Adams’s knack for songwriting and compelling vocals, radiates with talent and versatility.  

Adams’ vocals haunt the heart-wrenching “Tower of Babel” [and “Tower of Babel (minimal mix)”] as she sings: “I never lost you / You were never mine.” The strong piano, clarinet, and accordion parts make the ballad memorable and unique. The album’s title track, “Technicolor,” is perhaps the most danceable track on the EP. It carries a rolling-‘20s-esque feel—breaking out into the jitterbug certainly wouldn’t be inappropriate. “Songbird” starts slow and instrumental with an exotic sound unlike any other on the EP. About halfway through the track, however, the tempo, chords and mood change completely and the song becomes very upbeat. It’s another example of the group’s ambidextrous abilities.

Claire and the Crowded Stage is full of enduring talent that will only get better with time. This isn’t just a group of musician friends who are aimlessly plucking away on guitars or noodling around on a piano. Their sound is purposeful and polished. They weren’t thrown together by accident; this crowd was brought about to give local music a good name.
 
Technicolor, the group’s second EP, was released January 5. Claire and her crowded stage comprises: Claire Adams (vocals, ukulele and guitar), Katelyn Boone (bass and keys), Pete Lawless (accordion and saxaphone), Meredith McGrade (electric guitar), Katy Guillen (electric guitar), Stephanie Williams (drums), Jerod Rivers (drums), Brent Jamison (keys) and Teri Quinn (clarinet and guitar). As is par for the course of being a musician in Kansas City, several of these band members can be found hopscotching from lineup to lineup and venue to venue across the city. 
 
You'll be able to listen to Claire and the Crowded Stage on 90.1 KKFI next Wednesday, March 27 at 11:15 a.m. Members will be performing live on Mark Manning's weekly show, Wednesday MidDay Medley. The group will next be crowding the Coda stage on Friday, March 29 with Rev Gusto. Facebook event page here.
 
Here's a video from the title track, "Technicolor":
 
 
 
--Alex Peak
 

Alex Peak is a magazine designer by day and a music listener by night. To her, stumbling across great new music is even better than finding a $10 bill floating around in the laundry.

 

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