Jan 18, 2013

The Kuhl's: Holy Rollin' Debut CD Release

Singing and rocking sister duo, Renee and Grace Kuhl, with much fanfare and excitement, are scheduled for their debut release of Holy Rollin' on February 26, 2013.  Influenced by punk rock, folk, and pure rock n' roll channelling the likes of Zeppelin, they have successfully put together a stylistically varied compilation which showcases each of their individual and collective talents.  For a debut, this release is exceptionally well crafted and produced.  The songs presented are either intimate and soulful or upbeat with "hard rock" influence, slide guitar included.  The Kuhls are scheduled for a big "all ages" show at House of Blues on February 1st.  Not a bad coming out party.  By the way, how great is this album cover?  Great use of fallen leaves.

The Kuhls: Review of Holy Rollin'

Holy Rollin’ is an independent release featuring 12 songs spanning a wide range of influences including 90s grunge/70s rock n roll/country western girl pop all skillfully written by the Kuhl sisters, Renee and Grace.  Other musicians from the Chicago area joining them on the album include Luke Otwell (People’s Temple of America) on electric guitar and lap slide, Gregg Midon (Sons of the West) on drums, Anthony DeSanto (Sons of the West) on guitar and Kyle Crager (Soft Candy, Odd Folk) on bass. You can visit the bandcamp site for a listen to this provocative new release (The Kuhls.bandcamp.com).

Before I review Holy Rollin’ I must disclose that I have known Renee for several years as both friend and babysitter of my precious children.  Although biased opinions are rampant in many conversations and reviews throughout society at large, I can assure you that I am not one to hand out compliments (ask my children and the students that I supervise, they know how a offer “constructive criticism” with delight).

The first song, “A Woman is Like a Man”, roped me in immediately.  The appeal is that it’s style and musicianship is very satisfying from the first stanza.  It is one of the most melodic songs on the CD.  I found myself replaying it over and over in my mind, to the point of distraction.  The lyrics “She knows how to love somebody wrong (you know you taught me how baby)” tells the story, the scorned woman blaming her lover for her unjustified heartache.  This song is well crafted as both a folk song with a bit of country edge with the added flourish of great guitar riffs contributing a rock n roll feel.  Renee’s vocals really shine in this song, emphasizing the emotion of the lyrics while revealing but not overdoing the “anger” component.   This song is a clear standout for me.

The second track, “Gone My Governess”, takes a rock n roll turn with a constant drum backbone and although featuring Renee on vocals demonstrates the harmonizing cability of the Kuhl sisters.  “Leavin’ The Prairie” (video included on this blog), features Grace on vocals and Otwell on slide guitar.  Harmony and Renee as lead are back on “Bad Fiction” with guitar riffs reminiscent of one of my all time favorite bands, Lynyrd Skynyrd.  

 “20/40” starts out with an intro instantly reminding you of “The Song Remains The Same”. It is a very unique song featuring Grace’s distinctly edgy and quirky vocals, clearly a departure from Renee’s soothing, solid and crisp sound.  One would not be able to identify them as sisters if you had them do a sing off and listened for similarity in their DNA fingerprints. Grace has a similar quality to Julia Stone (Angus and Julia Stone) a bit raspy and gritty and sometimes less breath almost wistfully dropping the lyric at the end of each line.   Grace’s vocals twist and play with notes in a way that make her sound clearly her own in an exciting way.

The title track, “Holy Rollin’” starts out mellow with perfect harmonies.  The bridge transitions to piano and the lyrics and chord changes manage to tug at your heartstrings only winding down to surprise you with a screaming testosterone driven guitar solo and vocals that demand an answer to “Why you gotta be wasted?”  The Kuhls have clearly shared the bill equally with their band mates as each song has highlighted the talents of each of the musicians on this recording.

“Winning” once again turns to Grace for the lead and with the sparse and simple back-up of acoustic guitar for the song, brings her vocals to the forefront.  I recommend closing your eyes to imagine listening to this song “live” in your living room. “Indian Summer” throws the reigns back to Renee and grabs your attention immediately from the rock intro trailing into an Ani Difranco style lyric (for those that know and love her).

One, two, skip a few... The Kuhl’s transition to “Lark’s On A Wire”, bringing back the drums, adding bells and perhaps a tamburitza?  This is a lyrically rich song highlighting Renee’s range and beautiful vocal tone with the track’s ethereal and spiritual quality.  This song is completely unexpected in the context of the rest of the CD.

Again, all biases aside (please still babysit for me and be nice to my kids), this is an ambitious first release and worthy of undivided attention.  The vocal and song-writing artistry of this sister pair are noteworthy.  They are able to weave complicated arrangements threading lyric with varied tempos, even within an individual song.   For a freshman release, the production is highly professional and mature.  The recording is crisp and nothing about the song compilation monotonous.  If I were to add a “constructive bit of criticism” I would say that it is tricky to alternate tracks between lead singers and still have one cohesive sound to set the tone of the album. The Kuhls have successfully crossed many genres, which can appeal to a variety of listeners (on the one hand), but it might be worth making a specific choice so that their own official signature could be identified.  I would like to hear one song on the radio and know that this is, undoubtedly, The Kuhls

Here is a behind the scenes video teaser of the recording process of what might be the big "hit single" Leavin' the Prairie:

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