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Album review: The Grisly Hand - Country Singles





Album review: The Grisly Hand - Country Singles

 
(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
The thought of today's "country music" genre is enough to make this reviewer's skin crawl. Almost no other recollection is more irritating than the memory of high school dances gone by, predominantly backdropped with a Garth Brooks soundtrack. Flashes of two-step, ill-fitting cowboy hats and oversized belt buckles, some nasty substance called chaw, and off-key, twangy impressions spring to mind, stereotypical as they may sound. And if 16-year-old me knew that 30-year-old me would willingly and constantly blast a country album while driving around town, she would be wildly perplexed.
 
Fortunately, none of those memories is drudged up while hearing The Grisly Hand's latest full-length effort, Country Singles. The six-piece group masterfully composed twelve solid tracks (along with a special bonus track if you have the album; and if you don’t, get it now—you won’t regret it), presented in a way that brings a broad appeal to its music, yet maintains its core. Country Singles is still, in essence, a country album, but it incorporates a healthy blend of classic country with pop, rock, folk, blues, and soul influences. The personal touch each member contributes to each song provides an extra boost of originality and character, and the production by Joel Nanos at Element Recording invites a quality that reaches far beyond the typical lengths of a locally-produced record.
 
In previous works, the strength of each track was primarily found in the pristine vocal harmonies of Lauren Krum and Jimmy Fitzner. But with a careful eye on production by Nanos, a new combination of members (this is Mike Stover's and Matt Richey's first recording with the group), and an ever-maturing sense of songwriting, Country Singles stands out as a premier local album.
 
The characteristically pleasant vocal harmonies by Krum/Fitzner continue to pervade the majority of the LP, but they push through each track with a more confident collective voice and project a stronger personality through their colorful brand of storytelling. One of the best examples of this is on "(If You're Leavin') Take the Trash Out (When You Go)," a jaunty track that nonchalantly tells the story of a breakup, driven by Krum’s intrepid vocal delivery and Fitzner’s accompaniment. On this track—among several others on Country Singles—Richey shows his ability to outshuffle any drummer in Kansas City, helping carry a consistent heartbeat throughout the LP’s most classic country tunes.
 
Guitarist and mandolin player Ben Summers also puts his songwriting abilities on display throughout the album, on songs like “Municipal Farm Blues” and “Coup de Cœur,” a lovelorn duet between him and Krum, accompanied by Stover’s masterful, lonesome steel guitar work.
 
These are just small examples of the diversity of the LP, which is best captured in the middle of the album with “Amusia” and “Blind Horse.” While the first four tracks contain the signature Grisly sound, these two are direct counterpoints that retain just enough of the band’s style to shine slightly brighter than the others. The songs show a deeper side of the band, both in emotion and composition; and perhaps the album’s finest moments are found on these tracks. One is the haunting minor-note instrumental/vocal performance that resolves at the bridge of “Amusia.” The other sort of just occurs throughout “Blind Horse,” as the physical and emotional force of Krum’s voice is pitted against intermittent breaths of a simplistic but equally-as-compelling piano, also played by Krum.
 
Country Singles is The Grisly Hand’s finest work to date, because the band maintains its roots and style while integrating a variety of influences and emotions, along with plenty of humor (the idea and liner notes were inspired by a rural newsletter for lonely singles), dynamics, and depth. No doubt this is already a strong contender for local album of 2013.
 
Yesterday, The Grisly Hand released a video for “That’s Not Affection,” directed by Dan Myers. Check it out below!
 
The Grisly Hand is:
Jimmy Fitzner: vocals, guitar
Lauren Krum: vocals
Johnny Nichols: bass, keys, vocals
Matt Richey: drums
Mike Stover: steel guitar, bass
Ben Summers: guitar, mandolin, vocals
 
 
You can check out The Grisly Hand on a big stage this Saturday, September 14 at Crossroads Music Fest. The band will play Crossroads KC at Grinder’s at 8:10 p.m. You can buy tickets in advance at this link for $15, $20 at the gate.
 
 

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli Magazine - Kansas City, and also plays drums Drew Black & Dirty Electric and bass in Dolls on Fire and The Philistines. One member of The Grisly Hand claims to be toothless, and she knows which one it is. Do you?

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