by Jack Silbert
(ABOVE: photo by Kelli Glancey)
Many Hoboken kids know Karyn Kuhl as the cool instructor behind Little RocknRollers music classes. But with the new EP Hey Kid, Karyn and her band are ready to school some adults too. In a career which spans back to the legendary Maxwell’s days of the 1980s, this is Kuhl’s most political batch of songs yet. It’s also a rocking wake-up call to anyone wallowing in despair about our country’s civil-rights backsliding.
There’s also a real crispness to these tracks, thanks to the involvement of Ray Ketchem, who has previously worked with acts such as Guided by Voices, Alex Chilton, and Luna. Ketchem produced, mixed, and mastered the EP, and 3 of the 4 songs were recorded at his Magic Door studio in Montclair.
As a listener, you don’t ease into this record; from the first second the music builds majestically as Kuhl chants “Hey kid!” on the title track. The rhythm section is locked in: drummer Jonpaul Pantozzi and, making his recorded debut with the band, bassist Larry Heinemann (Blue Man Group, Springhouse). And with James Mastro (Guitar Bar, the Bongos, Health & Happiness Show, reunited Mott the Hoople) and Kuhl both on guitar, you never know what wild sounds to expect.
A minute into the opening number, there’s a Byrds-y guitar break. Forty-five seconds later comes what I can only describe as a funhouse guitar solo. The song also reunites Kuhl with her Gut Bank and Sexpod bandmate Alice Genese (Psychic TV) who contributes backing vocals.
“Hey Kid” is lyrically compelling as well, as Kuhl speaks to her younger self, trying to summon that confidence and innocence to protest in these troubled times. But she’s also talking to the younger generation, explaining that the elders can provide wisdom and experience if the youth will kick in energy and enthusiasm. With old and young teaming up, we shall overcome.
Next is the EP’s centerpiece, “It’s Over.” In the verses — in a deliberate, matter-of-fact manner — Kuhl calls out the President, the patriarchy, the bigots and haters, letting them know their time is done. “The end is near and it’s what you fear,” she taunts them. “The future is female, black, and queer!” Musically, Heinemann and Pantozzi methodically keep time, then the chorus is loud and proud, followed by a triumphant bridge, with Genese again along for the ride.
A drumroll and fuzz guitar welcome us to the jazzy, psychedelic “The Wheels,” as Kuhl rails against gentrification and homogenization. The final 75 seconds are a garage-y guitar freakout that wants to take you higher… and succeeds.
The EP concludes with the stripped-down, very cool sounding “Strong Woman Blues,” recorded by Hoboken’s own Tom Beaujour (Juliana Hatfield, Nada Surf) at his Nuthouse studio. Kuhl shakes up the instrumentation, with Tim Foljahn (Kiam recording artist, Half Japanese, Cat Power, Thurston Moore) providing guitar, bass, and a spooky keyboard, and Beaujour himself adding a spare, lonesome beat. But sorry, boys, strong woman Karyn Kuhl is in charge here, totally in her wheelhouse playing the raw blues. Kuhl tells a lover — or anyone who dares stand in her way — that she’s gathering strength and is ready to step up, speak out, and break free.
You’ve all been put on notice.