On her third full-length recording, “Guitar in Hand,” Kasey Rausch displays a command of several styles and traditions and a knack for telling stories.
Over the course of 12 songs, Rausch pays tribute to people and places that have mattered most to her: the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan.; her great-grandmother, who died at 103; her mother; a moonshining granddaddy; and her native state, Missouri.
Rausch produced “Guitar in Hand” with Mikal Shapiro, a fellow Kansas City singer-songwriter and her co-host on “River Trade Radio,” which is broadcast Sunday mornings on KKFI (90.1 FM). The first two-thirds of the album are acoustic. Songs are arranged with varying combinations of fiddle, mandolin, banjo, upright bass and dobro. On several songs, Shapiro or Rausch’s sister, Kim Rausch McLaws, lays down harmonies.
On the final four songs, Rausch performs with the Naughty Pines, the classic-country cover band of which she is a member. The difference is jarring but refreshing, taking “Hand” from the warm embrace of acoustic bluegrass, old-time country and country folk — from somewhere between Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch — to something electric and more countrypolitan.
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The album’s charm springs from its enduring melodies; its grace springs from the stories she tells. The fiddle tune “103” pays tribute to her great-grandmother, who died on Rausch’s birthday.
“I see my birthday written on your stone,” Rausch sings, “a cold reminder of how I can feel so alone.”
She then promises to live like her “great-granny”: to dance a jig on her birthday, to spike the eggnog now and then, and to “tell jokes at the table, drink some beer if I’m able.”
“The Gospel of Winfield” revives the spirit and camaraderie of the annual bluegrass festival that has become integral to Rausch and musicians in her circle.
“When my old guitar starts a singin’, my heart beats like a drum,” she sings. “And my feet dance to the rhythms of the bluegrass and old-time songs.”
Then comes the chorus, a rousing call for music and dance.
“Crazy Heart,” cast in standup bass and dueling banjos, is about a harlot who’s a “bat out of hell” when it comes to love and who arouses jealousy in other women because “she’s got their men on her hook.”
“Sweet Missouri” is a lovely waltz that paints a landscape, name-checking chickweed and dandelions, dogwoods and redbuds, and the song of the cicadas.
The cover of Johnny Mullins’ “Just an Old Man” is delightful, a tale about a guy with “one good ear and one bad eye” who fishes every day “’cause if I didn’t, I’d die.”
The Naughty Pines material is bright and bracing, and Rausch’s voice easily navigates the leap in styles, summoning her inner Loretta Lynn. Each features some dazzling work on guitar, from Patrick Deveny, and pedal steel, from Marco Pascolini. The first of those songs, “Heavy Fog,” is a rocking, swinging thank-you to Rausch’s mother: “Time will tell what I have to learn / Mama, I know I have a lot to learn / With you walking by your baby girl / I ain’t afraid to give this old world a whirl.”
“Guitar in Hand” is Rausch’s first recording in seven years. Not long after she released the previous album, “Live How You Love,” she quit music. Four years later she restarted her music career, rejuvenated and recommitted.
As much as anything, “Hand” is an album about place: where you’re from and where your heart belongs. It’s also a confirmation that Rausch is back where she belongs — making music. Because that’s obviously where her heart is.