(Photo by Elise Del Vecchio at Lighted Stage Photography)
The Kansas City music community continues to thrive and expand, something The Deli KC is happy to support and report on, and this trend continues to build momentum with each passing year and each new album release. And by no means is this a boys-only club, of course; over the past several years there has been no shortage of great female singers in many genres: Abigail Henderson, Lauren Krum, Alicia Solombrino, Julia Haile, Danielle Schnebelen, and Shay Estes, just to name a half-dozen. These ladies can not only rock the mic—they do so fearlessly and effortlessly, providing a presence that is both captivating and unforgettable, and all are members of bands that bring great things to the stage whenever they’re on. There’s another name and another band vying for a place in your record collections, one that has been working the circuit, playing bars and clubs from Lawrence to Columbia and all points in between, and with the release of their full-length self-titled debut, The Clementines are ready for their well-earned time in the spotlight.
The Clementines started as a duo in 2011 with founding members Nicole Springer and Tim Jenkins each playing acoustic guitars and using their time to hone their singing and songwriting chops. They added the rhythm section of Stephanie Williams and Travis Earnshaw the next year, a move that gave heft and [if I may use a technical term here] oomph to support the power of Springer’s mighty pipes. And while they may have a lead singer whose voice can turn walls into rubble at any given moment, Springer doesn’t simply lean on her internal volume control switch in an effort to overpower her listeners. In The Clementines you’ll hear a great deal of control and command, as the music calls for presentation that runs from pensive to melancholy to victorious to daring to outright sassy. She’s got all the tools, and like any good carpenter or mechanic, she knows which tools to use and when to use them. No song features a delivery that seems out of place, and no mood is falsely presented.
Any band with such a commanding presence at the front runs the risk of being overshadowed by that voice, or of being seen as “hangers-on” who are only along for the ride because of the talent of the lead singer, not because of their own abilities. There is no such worry with The Clementines, as this is truly a band with quality at all positions. Jenkins has adapted and enhanced his guitar playing to accommodate both duo and quartet arrangements; his skills have progressed greatly since I first saw the two-piece version of the band on the recordBar stage a couple years ago. Earnshaw lends a stalwart bass presence, never pushing his way into the spotlight, but never fully conceding to the twin-mostly-acoustic-guitar sounds which he augments in fine fashion. His ability to set a warm, comfortable foundation to the proceedings is crucial to the cohesiveness of the music. And Williams is simply described in the band’s bio as “bad-ass drummer”; that’s about as spot-on as it gets. The Clementines features a wide array of genres and influences—rock, soul, jazz, Americana, gospel, blues—and their rhythmic timekeeper doesn’t miss a beat (literally and figuratively) throughout, keeping lock-step with her bandmates at every turn. If playing music with such a dominant frontwoman is a challenge, then Jenkins, Earnshaw, and Williams are more than up to the task throughout the album’s fourteen-track playlist.
A few CliffsNotes-sized looks at some of those tracks:
“Rough Times” – The first single released by the band; Americana-rock sounds with an underlying jazz snarl. To say that acoustic bands can’t groove is ridiculous, and this track serves as Exhibit A of that argument.
“Soul, Mind, Role, Survive” – The one electrified song on the album, with an added punch that gives it a ‘90s alt-rock vibe. A great change of pace.
“Could Have Been” – A menacing slice of backwoods swamp-pop swathed in Southern-fried goodness. Undeniably catchy and hooky.
“Say” – The most intricate playing by all four members, showing off the instrumental skill sets that make this band a quadruple threat.
“Responsibility” – This may be my favorite track on the album; Springer’s delivery goes from delicately soft to passionately earnest without breaking stride.
“Sightless” – Acoustic rock doesn’t get any better than this, pure and simple. Maybe *this* is my favorite track?
“Should I” – A delicate arrangement that made me think Western madrigal, which I can’t explain but it just sounds like it fits. If you’re a fan of Calexico (and you should be), this is a track for you.
“Moved” – A textbook closing track musically and one of the most lyrically powerful, an expression of longing and love lost; a very courageous move on the part of the band to close with a song that does not offer the listener the prototypical “happily ever after” ending. Okay, THIS might be my favorite track.
We all like to see friends and neighbors succeed, and when they’re willing to bust their asses to make good things happen for themselves, it’s all the more rewarding. Bands like Making Movies, She’s A Keeper, and The Latenight Callers are proof that constant work, abundant publicity, and outright ability will get your music heard. The Clementines fit that bill, with an increasing number of shows over the past few months which have led to their self-titled album being a reality—and a reality which you should tune in to. As Springer sings in “Bayou”, the album’s opening track: “I leave it up to you when we're at the bayou / to renew my existence, to sanctify my consciousness.”
Existence renewed, consciousness sanctified—and efforts very much appreciated.
Be sure to join The Clementines this Saturday, June 1, as they release their self-titled debut album at The Brick. They will kick off the show at 9 p.m., playing the album in its entirety. Root and Stem will perform afterwards. Facebook event page.
Michael Byars wrote most of this with one hand, as his other arm has gone numb from his editor’s constant punching—but he thinks she’s pretty cool anyway. [Editor's Note: She is. *punch*]