I spent a lot of time around the K Records campground this year as I tracked Karl Blau’s new and rather active band Lovers Without Borders. K Records has scaled down operations from their days as a premier dispensary of northwestern homemade rock and folk music. Even in those halcyon times, they primarily ran according to what was affordable to their customers. They were a cassette- and cd-heavy catalogue, they thrived on face-to-face relationships, even if there were a bunch of post offices between those faces. But along with the rest of the music publishing world, they hiccupped about in the initial swamp of digital music consumption and entitlements. Maybe they missed out on some benefits of waves of vinyl resurgence. But K seems to upping their output a little thanks to the same medium that interrupted them in the first place—the mp3. K’s mp3s are really cheap. The 38-song catalogue-spanning reissue of early Portland punks the Neo Boys goes for only $9.99. Most LPs are around $7.99, many are less. That’s what helped me make the decision to buy two Kendl Winter albums based on cover art and ten seconds of listening. The cover art in question was for her 2012 album The Mechanics of Hovering Flight, but here I’ll be reviewing 2013’s It Can Be Done.
Kendl Winter is a banjo player, singer, and songwriter from Arkansas and who’s now probably living around Olympa WA if she’s working with K Recs. I don’t know shit about drums or engineering, but the drums here sound like that awesome compressed-snare-type-thing that goes on in Joy Division, which is amazing to hear on a folk record in the midst of its zeitgeistular use in dance music. Her writing ranges from riffy folk traditionalism to stunningly specific new stories—similar to the range you would find on a Josh Small album, say. The former end of her spectrum is highlighted by “Rosie,” the album’s catchiest track, and the latter by “Centrifugal Forces,” which manages to successfully rhyme the titular phrase with “magical horses.” It also features a verse of fine new utterance:Who knew it would be so hard to do your laundry in Berlin? / I don’t know how to make change / Or get soap from the machine / I don’t know how to make change I’m not a banjo specialist, but this album hits my pleasure centers as hard as any of my other favorites: Derroll Adams, Karen Dalton, Josh Small, Glenn Jones, Franz Nicolay writes a good banjo song, Bow Thayer. It Can Be Done gets a huge Essential Listening endorsement because it’s an easy album to want to revisit. I’m serious about “Rosie”—it’s so fucking good and catchy. And please join me in furthering my knowledge of contemporary lady banjoistas by checking out the inaugural Banjo Babes calendar and mixed-tape, featuring Kendl Winter as Ms. October.