If you need a strong, female musical voice to affirm your outrage about President Trump and others trying to undermine women’s rights to control their own bodies and destinies — or you just want some new songs to create a sweaty dance party — listen to the Karyn Kuhl Band’s latest EP, Hey Kid. The music feels good in the visceral rock’ n’ roll way, and the relevant and impactful lyrics voice anger and despair like nothing I’ve heard since the best ’60s protest songs. Kuhl’s emotionally revealing songs provide a road map that can help us rise from apathy to break the shocking news cycle through resistance.
Hey Kid will be released on June 21 on all streaming platforms. It is currently available for digital pre-order at karynkuhl.bandcamp.com with an immediate download of the remarkable track, “It’s Over.”
If you already know the veteran Hoboken-based singer, songwriter and guitarist and her blues-influenced group, and have seen some of the songs performed live in venues around New Jersey and New York, now you can support her and put some skin in the artistic game by buying her EP so she can continue to provide you with musical inspiration. It’s so hard to be a saint in the city and in the music industry these days.
Hey Kid’s tracks are more political than her deeply personal songs on her 2016 EP, The Stars Will Bring You Home. However, I have long subscribed to the ’60s adage that “the personal is political,” and her new political themes strike me as very personal given the recent attacks to women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, our planet and anyone struggling to pay for housing and health care.
“I’ve had it with patriarchal oppression since I was 19 years old, probably even younger,” said Kuhl. “It’s internalized by everyone because we have all been raised under it … the combination of the age I am now and what’s been in our faces, politically, has given voice to some of these feelings.”
In a prior NJArts.net interview, Kuhl said “my new hero is RBG,” referring to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After watching a documentary about Ginsburg, she said, “I decided that she was my role model for how I wanted to be in the world, for how I want to stand up for myself and take care of myself … It’s really hard for women to own our power and, for me, I am not loud and aggressive.”
However, when Kuhl steps onto a stage, her voice is unapologetic and fierce. Her new songs demonstrate her passion and power.
Kuhl’s voice and sizzling guitar blends well with her devastatingly talented bandmates James Mastro (the Bongos, Ian Hunter’s Rant Band) on guitar and keyboards, Larry Heinemann (Springhouse, Blue Man Group) on bass, and Jonpaul Pantozzi on drums. Elk City member Ray Ketchem produced, mixed and mastered the EP and also recorded three of the four songs at his Magic Door studio in Montclair.
Kuhl and her bandmates create a hypnotic intensity that brings you deep inside her pain about the state of the world. Alice Genese, her former Gut Bank and Sexpod bandmate, provides backing vocals on the title track and “It’s Over.”
After the last presidential election, Kuhl wrote the EP’s four songs, including the title track, which she conjured up after finding an old college ID card from the ’80s. She was struck by her youthful energy and wrote about the need to resurrect it during difficult times. After marching with young people, she also thought that young people could benefit from the wisdom acquired from aging.
“Hey Kid” made me think about the youthful part of ourselves that didn’t yet know about the limits to social change. Now more than ever, I think the song reminds us of the benefit to connecting with our younger, gutsier selves. We lose ourselves in daily struggles, but once in a while glancing at an old ID or yearbook realigns our sense of what’s possible.
The unforgettable “It’s Over” is my favorite anthem of the year and I hope it is picked up by nonprofits to lead marches and events. With the dystopian TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale” streaming on our phones and fear rising in us, Kuhl provides a release from our silent worries, calling out the bigots of the world and telling them the times they are a-changin’.
She sings, with conviction, both a declaration and a warning:
The family tree ain’t what it used to be
And it will never be what it was
We know it’s over and so do you
So three cheers to the new red, white and blue
The end is near and it’s what you fear
Because the future is female, black and queer
You know it’s over … you can’t stop time …
You can’t stop the power of the people’s revolution.
This song addresses greed, poverty and bigotry, and it feels good to sing it out loud. I’ve heard her compared to Patti Smith after she sang it at a live performance at Fox & Crow in Jersey City in January, and the comparison seems apt. She’s the Jersey voice we need to inspire us to move forward to resist infringements on our rights.
Another track, “The Wheels,” opens with her signature dreamy, psychedelic, jazzy voice and guitar. A drum roll and then an exciting, noisy guitar solo completes her tale about gentrification and conformity. She takes us on a trip “riding on the First Avenue bus” past 14th Street, where buildings are “gutted, demolished out of business and sold with a view of the park from your toilet of gold.”
“Strong Woman Blues,” the last track on the EP, brings us along Kuhl’s journey to fight the emotional powers that keep women from achieving solid footing within and outside of relationships. This bluesy, honest song reveals a woman finding freedom after finally breaking from a conditional, limited lover. This track was recorded by Tom Beaujour (adding percussion) at Nuthouse Studio in Hoboken with Tim Foljahn on guitar, bass and keyboard.
It takes a strong, brave spirit to extricate herself from a selfish lover, and Kuhl does it when she declares, “All of your excuses/All of your lies/All of your darkness that stands in my light/I don’t wanna know it anymore.”
I can’t help myself from swaying to the sound of this song when she wails, “Can’t wait any longer to decide if I’m out or I’m in it … Don’t need you no more to show me the demons buried below holding me back from freedom. I’m rising from the flames of the shame and the blame.”
“You’ll remember my name,” she croons at the close of this song.
Kuhl’s musical journey over the past 35 years started at age 10 at a gig in a Bloomfield church. At 17, she picked up an electric guitar. She moved to Hoboken at 22 and never left.
Though the music scenes in New York and Hoboken have changed since the ’80s, Kuhl has remained a vibrant part of them, and formed the Karyn Kuhl Band in 2010. Her powerful guitar, haunting voice and insightful lyrics have been a consistent strength, and are evident on all four songs in Hey Kid.
If you listen to Kuhl’s songs closely, you won’t forget her name. Her stories of love, loss, resistance and freedom have become part of my daily soundtrack.
The Karyn Kuhl Band will perform with GSX and others at The Bowery Electric in New York on June 29 at Queers of Noise – Post Dyke March Party. The band will also be on the bill with Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes, Robinson Treacher and Marry the Sea when Outpost in the Burbs presents a free evening of music outdoors in partnership with Montclair Center Stage, on July 20. Visit karynkuhl.com.
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