“The Grisly Hand” is a triumph, an ambitious showcase of styles, attitudes and musicianship from a band that has consistently grown craftier and more refined with each album.
The double album, available only on vinyl, comprises songs from “Flesh & Gold,” a nine-track CD released in 2015, and from the “Hearts & Stars” CD, containing 10 new songs. The order of songs on the double album has been shuffled to allow the music to flow more cohesively.
The Grisly Hand broke into the Kansas City music scene in 2009, and its take on country, soul and rock made the band an instant favorite among a wide swath of local fans. It navigated a few personnel changes before settling into the current lineup of top-shelf musicians: vocalist and primary songwriter Jimmy Fitzner, vocalist Lauren Krum, drummer Matt Richey and multi-instrumentalists (bass, guitars, mandolin, piano, steel guitar) Mike Stover, Ben Summers and Dan Loftus.
After putting out two EPs, the Grisly Hand released “Country Singles” in 2013, a breakthrough album that made many best-of lists around Kansas City at the end of that year.
“The Grisly Hand” has been a two-year mission to take the band’s sounds into more diverse terrains. Over the course of 19 songs, it leads the listener through an array of sounds and sentiments. The song craft throughout is keen and clever; melodies are thoughtful and inventive; the harmonies between Fitzner and Krum are rapturous; and the up-tempo numbers brim with irresistible grooves.
Among the new songs on “Hearts & Stars,” several stand out. “One More Day” begins as a jaunty guitar-centric pop song before slowing to a simmering soul ballad.
The song “Hearts & Stars” opens with church bells ringing, then turns into a ’60s girl-pop/soul number (with a brash horn flourish) that drops a couple of Rolling Stones references in the lyrics: “Exiled on Main Street with only dead flowers / I’m never sleeping the same way again.”
“Good Time Charlie” is a locomotive old-school rock song with country accents and killer harmonies. “Oh Tenderheart” is another warm gust of pop/soul with a Dusty Springfield vibe. The sweet, jangly “The Picture I Keep” is an appeal for assistance — “Help me get back on my feet” — and a dedication to a friend who has passed on: “I knew him well / I think about him all the time.” The horns make another appearance here, followed by a soulful keyboard run, taking the song into another musical realm.
The Grislys handle the ballads tenderly and deftly, but they are at their most exciting when they go high speed, like the rollicking honky-tonk blues romp “Good for the Gander” and the smoldering “Puerto Penasco,” which recollects a wild vacation, one that included photos taken in a jail cell and lots of drinking on the beach. Even at warp speed, the Krum/Fitzner harmonies, again, are lockstep and transcendent, and the vibe is exhilarating. (Think of Neko Case’s “Whip the Blankets.”)
The production here, from Joel Nanos at Element Recording Studios, is stellar. (Nanos also produced “Country Singles.”) There are lots of moving parts on this album, but they don’t get in the way of the songs.
The visual presentation also deserves praise. The graphics by Kansas City artist William Leonard Elder are fantastic, as is the band’s portrait, shot by Paul Andrews.
Only 500 copies of the vinyl double album have been pressed. It will be available Friday night at Knuckleheads, when the Grisly Hand will celebrate the album’s release. It is an accomplishment worthy of a celebration and congratulations.
The Grisly Hand performs Friday at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester. The Conquerors open. 8:30 p.m. $12. knuckleheadskc.com