Billy the Kid - Horseshoes & Hand Grenades | Album Review | By Volume

Gotta get out, before my heart explodes. Candy Says - Not Kings
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Billy the Kid

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

An emotional, striking and all-around engrossing record.

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Author: on September 11, 2014
7.8
Xtra Mile Records
September 8, 2014

For being only thirty-two, Billy Pettinger has a world of experience to her name. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades is her fourth solo record since 2008 and that’s not counting her side-projects like Billy the Kid & The Southside Boys or her pre-solo stint with Billy and the Lost Boys. She’s been recording for over twenty years and it shows on her newest LP. And while there’s a certain predictability to Horseshoes & Hand Grenades (a Frank-Turner-produced record is going to sound like a Frank Turner album – bar stool sing-alongs, folksy twang and harmonica tinges abound), Pettinger empties her soul into these songs and it’s blatantly apparent from the second “Phone Bills” kicks off to begin the record. “I don’t remember leaving / I don’t remember anything / I remember you, that day / You took me to the cemetery / Where they buried the man, you called your dad”, she paints on the album’s opener. Yet, “Phone Bills” is hardly a downtrodden tune. Emotional folk-punk is a way one could describe Billy the Kid’s music. Pettinger has a pretty excellent voice and at this point knows exactly how to use it. She’s able to deliver biting criticism back-to-back with loving praise – it’s a particular talent and as a lyricist Pettinger certainly possesses it. But this isn’t folk-punk a la Los Campesinos! or BTMI – Pettinger’s music sounds closer to the likes of a More Adventurous-era Rilo Kiley (Billy also shares a similar vocal range to a certain Jenny Lewis) – the venomous is a bit more subtle but striking all the same.

So if you’re up tonight I’ll be waiting / I can’t sleep to save my life / All the constellations faded / It’s just me and the satellites”, she articulates on “The Satellites + I”, illustrating a bit of what makes Horseshoes & Hand Grenades so charming and engrossing. Billy the Kid is one of many singer-songwriters to be found burning up in the night sky. She’s just one with enough fervor to stick it out once everyone else has faded. This earnest is felt like a weight throughout the entirety of the album, but it’s a grounding weight. As the album drifts about at times, it’s Pettinger’s vocals and quality of storytelling that keep you enthralled with the album. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades is a terribly easy album to pick up and play, but once you’ve investigated deeper there’s significantly more depth to the record beyond: a solid modern punk album from a talented singer-songwriter. It is that kind of album though, you can be sure of that, but it’s not necessarily a record to be put on as background music. It’s difficult to resist getting wrapped up in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades once it has your attention and I doubt many will get past the first few tracks before they’re effectively tuned-in.

They say you died in the hallway / The motor inn where I used to ply / How did they tell your momma? / And where were you babies that day? / It had been a minute / It’s a shame in’it?” she elegantly paints on the crushingly beautiful “Chelsea Rose”. The song, a tender acoustic-ballad aimed at reconciliation and acceptance between Pettinger and her deceased friend, and it’s probably the album’s most touching moment. It’s also one of the more poignant songs I’ve heard recently dealing with drug addiction – you can damn near feel the tears rolling off Pettinger’s cheeks onto her lyric sheet as she was writing the words. Or, well, the songs leaves you assuming she was bawling her eyes out it’s so emotionally affective. “I’ve got a message / I’ve got a bottle straight to my heart / You find out a lot about a girl in way she falls apart”, she reveals on the driving “Back To You”, and while this may not be true to every person ever, it’s a striking reveal from Pettinger, and I feel like a blueprint of sorts for her quality as a musician. Everything is laid out for all to see. As Patrick Stewart put it in his glorious cameo on Extras: “It’s too late … I’ve already seen everything”. There’s little Pettinger is hiding on Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and if this isn’t the first time she’s constructed an album like this, I’d find that hard to believe – she sounds like an utter pro.

Part of me feels like this is what leaves Horseshoes & Hand Grenades so rewarding for us listeners. There’s no thematic fluff to be found, nor any dire story arc or the façade of a concept album. It’s about as no frills as no frills gets Pettinger’s sheer talent as a songwriter is in no need of any that shit. Turner’s production work, as well, befits her hard-nosed approach to folk-punk, striking a balance between driving percussion, clean(ish) guitar lines and the gruff under Billy’s gorgeous wail. Personally, this approach doesn’t work as well for his solo-work and for all my side-eying when it comes to hearing: “Frank is producing a record” – what Turner does, he does extremely wel. His cleanliness when it comes to recording usually translates wonders for his clientele, even if his own records have suffered because of it.

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades isn’t his album though, in almost any sense. You can feel his touches, for sure, but the LP is all about Billy. “And I don’t believe in marriage / But do you want to get married? / We could just throw a party and I could meet all of your friends / And those kids you grew up, those ones you never see / I could look them in eye, and know that you’re happy”, she sings on closer “Young + On Fire”, one of a handful of surprisingly engrossing acoustic songs. It is in these tracks that Horseshoes & Hand Grenades shines most – when it’s just Pettinger, her guitar and her lyrics the album finds new life. I’d venture to say Billy herself finds these intimate moments the most comfortable to be on stage, echoing your tribulations over various sound waves out any number of speakers. She feels right there.

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