by Jack Silbert
Is Karyn Kuhl the last true believer in Hoboken? Well, one thing is certain: She rocks like nobody’s business. In the 1980s, Kuhl led the Hoboken-based, nationally-acclaimed band Gut Bank. In the 90s, that band evolved into Sex Pod. In the current millennium, Kuhl played in solo and group configurations until forming the Karyn Kuhl Band in 2010. And in my humble opinion, she keeps getting better and better, stripping down her sound into something pure and powerful.
The Karyn Kuhl Band released the album Songs for the Dead in 2013. With Lou Ciarlo on bass and Jonpaul Pantozzi on drums, the band has continually honed their live show. They’ve played everywhere in town, including Sinatra Park, Pilsener Haus, the Elks Club, Finnegan’s, Guitar Bar Jr., the gazebo in Church Square Park, and many other gigs up the hill and across the river.
Often they’ve been joined onstage by a secret weapon of sorts, guitarist James Mastro. Depending on when you entered the Hoboken narrative, you may know Mastro as a member of the Bongos, leader of the Health & Happiness Show, owner of Guitar Bar and Guitar Bar Jr. (where Kuhl teaches her “Little RocknRollers” kids’ music classes), in-demand producer, or musical director for the legendary Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople.
Now the Karyn Kuhl Band has a brand-new, six-song EP, The Stars Will Bring You Home, produced by Mastro, who is listed as an official member of the band. The Mile Square connections continue: The bulk of the EP was recorded and mixed by Tom Beaujour at Nuthouse Recording right here in town. And two songs were engineered by Rob Harari at Hoboken’s Water Music, with assistance from his Music & Technology Sound Recording students from the Stevens Institute.
The home team has really generated something special. And in a way, the packaging of the CD version mirrors the music within: The front and back covers are primarily grey, matching many sad, somber lyrics. But open up the CD sleeve and you reveal blood red — the pulsing heart of Kuhl’s songs.
I was really impressed with the pacing of this EP. You just know the Karyn Kuhl Band is going to rock your socks off, so the record wisely begins with (relative) calm, and keeps building from there. Track one, “Sad Eyes,” kicks off in subdued fashion with two guitars — one through an eerie effect — before Kuhl sings, “Someone really messed with your mind, treated you very unkind.” She’s immediately setting the lyrical tone for a collection of songs about hurt and loss. A piano gently enters the mix, is joined at the one-minute mark by drums and a phaser guitar, and we’re off to the races, my rockin’ friends.
Even in this first song, you realize that the twin-guitar attack of Kuhl and Mastro is truly something to reckon with. Throughout the record, they sounds like 100 guitars, cajoling every conceivable sound without ever coming across as too showy.
“Conjuring You,” which dwells on someone who’s gone, also begins in low-key fashion before a soaring passage two thirds of the way through. (Ciarlo co-wrote the music for this one, as well as the title track.) It is one of three songs here to utilize “the water” as a setting; Kuhl is a Hoboken girl, after all.
We received a teaser of the EP back in December, when the band’s psychedelic cover of “It Was a Very Good Year” was issued on Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. (It is also a song of loss, for those keeping score.) I won’t spoil the track’s clever musical twist, but the song is very much anchored by Ciarlo’s prominent bass and Pantozzi’s martial drums.
The rocking really heats up as Kuhl dives into the deep for “Lobster Girl.” She asks, “Why am I still alone, so alone, with a lobster girl?” Well, if we take the song literally, there might be some physiological conflicts to contend with. But if the lyrics are actually about trying to connect with a very guarded person, we’ve all been on one side or another of that equation. Don’t worry about it too much, the song features an absolute guitar freakout to take your mind off things.
The title track, “The Stars Will Bring You Home,” is the EP’s stunning centerpiece. We’re by the river once again, as Kuhl positively lays her soul bare to the memory of an ex-lover. (Now, that may be an alien on the EP cover, so perhaps this song’s lover was… abducted?) When the la-la, la-l-la’s kick in, I dare you not to sing along.
After this impassioned tour de force, we all cathartically need to just rock out, and the closing track, “Not Like That,” totally delivers. It begins with an Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar part, before revealing itself as a Zeppelin-style barnburner. “Pizza! Fishsticks! Shortstop Diner to go!” Kuhl chants about the good days to someone who’s… you guessed it… gone. Luckily, you the listener won’t feel a sense of loss when the EP is done, because you’ll want to hear it over and over again.
You can purchase The Stars Will Bring You Home at the Karyn Kuhl Band’s bandcamp page, or pick up a CD copy at one of their shows, including Sinatra Park on June 16, City Winery in NYC on June 18 (opening for Ian Hunter), and the Issyra Gallery in the Neumann Leathers Building on June 26. For information on all upcoming shows, visit the band’s Facebook page.