A double album can be an odd duck, but Kansas City’s The Grisly Hand may have unlocked its secrets.
On the surface, the idea of recording 19 songs, putting them out as two separate compact discs (a year apart), and then re-sequencing them as a double vinyl release (now self-titled) sounds overly-complicated, and maybe it is. However, while the two albums which comprise The Grisly Hand’s double LP — last year’s Flesh & Gold, and this year’s Hearts & Stars — are both excellent records on their own, it’s when the two are combined that this music really takes shape.
The Grisly Hand went into the studio back in 2015, all at once throwing 19 songs at producer Joel Nanos. Some were more skeletal than others, and the band picked the most completed for Flesh & Gold last year, then went back into the studio to finish the remaining songs, which became Hearts & Stars. So, technically, this started out as one collection, but was broken up and then put back together.
As an album, The Grisly Hand might be the rare double LP which gets played more than most single disc releases. Each side flies by so quickly; it’s almost a disappointment. The first side of the first LP contains such energetic tunes — although, really, they all do, but the opening side absolutely kills it with the likes of the honky-tonkin’ “Good Time Charlie” and power-poppy “Regina.”
And how amazing is it that this is a band that folks ostensibly identify as Americana, but there’s more than just twang? I mean, there’s country here, obviously — “Baby Talk” is damned twangy — but there’s also power-pop, ballads, and even something like “The Picture I Keep,” which manages to be a touching remembrance of a friend who passed, but also a melange of the Spencer Davis Group and Motown, while still fitting comfortably with all the other tracks.
Get yourself a copy of The Grisly Hand and do what I do: listen to it all the way through, then just start flipping the records over again and listening to the sides in reverse order. Currently, I’ve been able to do that a solid four times before I put something else on the turntable, and I can’t really think of a higher bit of praise.
The vinyl sound is crisp and clean. It’s a little on the high side, without a lot of low end, but everything’s otherwise so vibrant, it seems a minor issue.
This may be the most understated and classy-looking release I’ve laid my hands on all year. It starts with the fact that the plastic sleeve the double LP is in folds over and is sealed with a silver foil sticker reading “Thank You.” The sleeve, designed by William Leonard Elder, looks like the cover to a long-forgotten book you’ve pulled off a shelf in the very back of some creaky-floored bookstore in a strange neighborhood, and the gold foil accents on the logo, corner emblems, and tracklisting really make it pop. The lyrics fit on just one side of the inner gatefold, but they’re clear and easy to make out, plus there’s a breakdown of personnel, track-by-track. The Grisly Hand’s double LP looks good, and just demands you pull it off the shelf and handle it.
The Grisly Hand is available directly from the band.