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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Album review: The Clementines - The Clementines

Album review: The Clementines - The Clementines

(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

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*]

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