The Grisly Hand Bring Their Catchy, Darkly Lyrical Americana Rock to the Rockwood
It’s astonishing how so many fantastic out-of-town bands come into New York and end up playing ridiculously small place, isn’t it? The press page at Kansas City Americana band the Grisly Hand‘s site quotes a trendoid New York music blog (no, not this one, haha) as calling them one of the ten best in the state of Missouri. That’s an understatement: the Grisly Hand might be one of the ten best bands in the entire country right now. The title track of their debut ep, Western Avenue, got a spin here earlier this week and was immediately put on loop. With its lush bed of guitars, graceful piano and casually expert harmonies, it sounds like the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies backing Neko Case – yeah, that good. The band has a second ep, Safe House and a new album, Country Singles, all streaming online, and an upcoming show on August 8 at midnight at the big room at the Rockwood. Fans of Americana and smart, lyrically-driven songwriting in general would be crazy to miss this show.
Other than Neko Case, the obvious comparison this band draws is the Walkabouts. Frontwoman Lauren Krum has the same kind of defiant twang in her voice as Case, while the band – which also include guitarists Jimmy Fitzner and Ben Summers, bassist Dan Loftus, drummer Matt Richey and steel player Mike Stover – prove themselves equally at home with honkytonk and more oldtime C&W sounds. And they love their layers: multitracked guitars, mandolin, banjo, keys and guy/girl vocals. Of the three other tracks on the first ep, Fitzner sings an exuberant, fiddle-driven Tex-Mex take of Gram Parsons’ Still Feeling Blue, while Richey propels the harmony-fueled Thinking About You with a tumbling bounce. The ep’s final track is Black Coffee, another wryly biting, early zeros-style Neko soundalike about an allnight bender.
Safe House, the second ep, opens with the wistful escape anthem Paris of the Plains, which brings to mind the odd meters and edgy harmonies of X – it wouldn’t be out of place on the Knitters album. Losin You Has Done a Number on Me blends banjo into its Bakersfield country sway, while Cherry Mash Waltz is a Walkabouts soundalike with its moody organ and Krum’s plaintive vocals. The Distraction takes an unexpected turn into jangly retro 60s Britpop, followed by Good Wife, which builds from an oldtimey hillbilly bounce to a furtive scamper. Picking Up Pieces artfully interpolates bits and pieces of honkytonk, X and maybe mid-80s REM; the ep ends with a vamping, mandolin-flavored indie rock number.
The new album is the band’s best, both lyrically and musically, and it’s more of a rock record. The first song, Coal & Black pairs twangy Buck Owens Telecaster against resonant steel: “I can see love has been no friend of yours, well he ain’t been no friend of mine,” Krum laments to a guy, “My heart sleeps at your door.” Phineas Gage updates the sad tale of the New Hampshire railroad worker who survived a stake through the head only to suffer a 180 degree personality change – it makes a more lively counterpart to Tom Warnick‘s far creepier No Longer Gage.
If You Say So veers back and forth between an upbeat sway and a scurrying shuffle. Municipal Farm Blues infuses a sardonic smalltime lawbreaker’s tale with cheery guy/girl harmonies, capped off by a gorgeously climbing steel solo. The album’s best song, Amusia opens with equally gorgeous twelve-string guitar and hits an angst-ridden peak with some haunting vocal harmonies: it could be the Handsome Family with big-studio production values.
Krum sings the velvety, jazzy piano ballad Blind Horse – it could pass for a standout Neil Finn song. The band picks up the pace with the roaring powerpop anthem That’s Not Affection, a brilliantly detailed account of making the trip to the part of town where people “tell you to fuck off without making a sound.” They keep the energy at redline with the biting, Walkabouts-ish electric bluegrass tune If You’re Leaving Take the Trash Out When You Go, capped off with a searing steel solo and a droll surprise ending.
Coup de Coeur builds a vividly wounded ambience against a backdrop of fingerpicked acoustic guitar and steel. A lickety-split ragtime tale, Rude Gambler once again brings to mind the Walkabouts circa the Old West Motel album. Krum’s resigned vocals float along with the steel over a sad country sway on Any Other Way. The closing track, Country Singles updates an early 70s Grateful Dead sound with a funky edge. So there you have it, the complete recorded output from this great band. Enjoy!