Harmonica Dunn Presents!! - Early Show
Kentucky Knife Fight
Rivals of the Peacemaker, Whiskey Folk Ramblers
2447 N. Halsted
Chicago, IL, 60614
This event is 21 and over
Kentucky Knife Fight
As the Gateway to the West, the promise of leaving St. Louis was built into the prospect of arriving here; her arch functions as an ironic symbol of something to pass through, that which you don't look at but look beyond. But for those who stay, like the five-piece punk-blues wrecking crew Kentucky Knife Fight, this unswept city itself finds a voice in their sound. Like the dark side of a postcard, unfamiliar unless you live there, their newest songs are inhabited by the city's criminals and carrion – its lonely, displaced, and desperate. Their city is poised on the precarious edge between southern hospitality and northern cynicism, between bourbon in a pitcher and lukewarm beers that you have to open yourself.
Kentucky Knife Fight have grown along with the city, returning after relentless touring with an increasingly acute perspective of the hardships inherent in St. Louis life. Like the scene itself, they have seen their own youthful angst become introspection and insight; what were once accidental riffs have become anthems; and opening for national acts have yielded performances that were not only memorable, but mattered. Their music is world-weary but hopeful; grace is never enough to save the unsavory; and just because you love something doesn't mean that it's good for you.
Pulling St. Louis with them like an always-almost-broke-down trailer across the country, the band is but one of a growing armada of ambassadors in every medium, renewing the city's vital voice in American art. As it has nurtured its native son Pokey LaFarge, who can be heard on Jack White's newest record, the city's community-based initiatives, collective spaces, and galleries are fostering progressive ways to imagine performance-based art. Newly influential again, St. Louis is listening to Kentucky Knife Fight tell its story; they were named "Best Rock Band" twice by the Riverfront Times, but that feels less like an award than an announcement. Because Kentucky Knife Fight are too hungry to be tired; too restless to rest; and too stubborn to stop.
Rivals of the Peacemaker
Sometimes the creative process sucks, and no one knows that more than really creative artists. Just ask Alex and Billy Watson, the artistic force behind Chicago’s dark folk quintet, Rivals of the Peacemaker.
For starters, these two will be the first to tell you that they may have shared a home and a dog, but they don’t share a record collection. It would be easy enough to say that they’ve worked both of their proclivities (him: metal and alt rock; her: folk and classic country) into the sweet but insistent and insurgent Americana of Rivals of the Peacemaker, but that would be selling short a more intricate reality – it’s fucking hard to make music, get laid and pay the mortgage all with the same person.
So Alex and Billy each deal with the hard parts of the process in their own ways. Alex, a visual artist, has always used painting and drawing as an artistic break from writing music. As she started writing the follow up to 2011’s self-titled EP, Alex found herself relying more and more on her visual art to give the music time to marinate in her head. So much so that after a while, the difference between the art she was creating for the ears and the art she was creating for the eyes felt almost imperceptible.
“As I write, I paint, and as I paint, I write more, so I’d been working on a series of paintings and drawings simultaneously while writing the songs,” she says. “So the idea is to have the record, on vinyl, and then have a series of 12x12 prints in the sleeve that correspond to the songs.”
This layering of text and image, music and art, comes, not surprisingly from off-beat sources. Says, Alexandrea, "I watched this incredible documentary called Beauty Is Embarrassing, which is about the artist Wayne White, who is pretty much my biggest influence right now. It inspired me to think of making music and art as a lifestyle and to embrace the idea of tying together the things I believe in, even if I think they're weird. I guess connecting country/Americana music, scientific illustration and printmaking are a little unusual, but it's what I’m interested in."
What’s it like working with Billy? "We don't like any of the same things, or any of the same bands," Alexandrea Watson admits wryly. In the context of an up-and-coming band, this isn't an uncommon scenario. Although an end goal of harmony and memorable songs may be in sight, the sum of the parts hoping to get there can be on quite divergent paths. Luckily, despite the aforementioned differences in taste, "for some reason, we like what we make together," Alexandrea mentions.
That "what" the Watsons make has made 2013 a busy year: A Kickstarter-funded new album; a Lollapalooza slot; being filmed for Red Bull's Sound Select series. Things are truly taking off for a group whose main vocalist made a formative life change this year: "I quit my job and made a plan to dedicate the next year to releasing an album, creating a body of work paired with the album, and more scientific illustration-inspired pieces," says Alexandrea. "I kind of wanted to challenge myself with an impossible goal and then make it happen.”
Tying those things together allows Rivals to hold court in two vastly differing approaches that have served country-tinged folk and Americana well over the past 100-plus years: Slimmed down to a duo, they create a stark, intimate mesh of top-notch songwriting and evocative vocals; With a backing band - they can craft soaring ballads and fiery, ramshackle stompers.
Coming in August, the band's first proper album features a group running on all cylinders. The lush, should-be hit "The Day After the Rapture," gives an image of remorse for not quitting a relationship earlier than the apocalypse, something that touches on country's always-present sadness and humor, while the shimmering "Let It Rain" coasts breezily on a reserved chorus accented by solemn electric piano.
On "Drive Slow," Rivals touch on an epic tale of small town escapism, with the duo posing the question "Are you lonely / Or is it just the night?" before Alexandrea coyly answering "It doesn't matter." With mom's cigarettes and her brother's car, the open road is all that awaits, and it's that kind of romanticism we have with not knowing what's ahead that often makes for the best songs. Primarily stripped down to the bare essentials of vocals and guitar, "Fire For You" is a breathless ode to carnal attraction, with Alexandrea admitting "I wanna do right / But just not tonight." It's a song that almost comes with its own aura, as you can picture it being played at bar close in a smokey dive.
Whiskey Folk Ramblers
Like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western set in the Dust Bowl, Whiskey Folk Rambler's "folk noir" blends ominous, reverb-dripping guitars with boot-stomping train beats and funereal horns to create sonic backdrops for down-on-your-luck ballads and beer-soaked anthems.
Their music is the sound of a union meeting at its drunkest, of a last-resort robbery gone awry, of mice and men and the lengths they'll go to forget about their troubles. From catchy singalongs to moody shuffles, Whiskey Folk Rambler's sound takes American roots music down a road less traveled, where even the Devil might be waiting to raise a toast. ~ Steve Steward