Guitar slinger Kara Grainger celebrates a gritty new record with a birthday show
By Bliss Bowen
In its creation process, an album represents the answer to myriad questions. Should songs be worked out live at shows beforehand, or sprung on fans only after the recording’s released? Originals? Covers? Both? How many ballads? Should songs represent an act’s live sound or strive for effects only achievable in a studio?
For Kara Grainger, answers are embodied in her forthcoming album “Living With Your Ghost,” due June 1 from her Station House label and co-produced by Swedish-born, New Orleans-based artist and producer Anders Osborne, whose restless eclecticism clearly suits her. “Living With Your Ghost” is more rocking than funky, and grittier than Grainger’s 2013 album “Shiver and Sigh.”
“It was actually an intentional move,” Grainger acknowledges. “Anders brought a great spirit to the project, and a little more of a raw edge. We decided to book a week and get most of that tracking down so that basically we couldn’t sit and stew on it too long and make too many changes [laughs] and smooth it out too much. We had a very core group of musicians: keyboardist Ivan Neville, drummer J.J. Johnson, bassist Dave Monsey, and the Texas Horns. So there was a sound that developed out of that week in Austin.”
The inspired energy that approach yielded can be heard in Grainger’s extended slide solos during “Working My Way Back” and the bluesy closer “Freedom Song,” both of which were recorded live in the studio. “I don’t think I’ve done an album before where any of my tracking solos have made it,” she says, laughing. “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” She credits Osborne with making production decisions “based on what feels best in the moment.”
Born and raised in Australia, Grainger schooled herself as a singer and guitarist on the records of Etta James, Little Feat and Stevie Ray Vaughan. She’s been making music since she was 16 — first in Papa Lips with her brother Mitch (who also migrated to L.A.), and as a solo artist since 2006. That year’s rootsy “Grand and Green River” was followed by 2011’s “L.A. Blues,” which, like “Shiver and Sigh,” positioned her as a sultry blues and soul artist. “Living With Your Ghost” grants her a wider frame, alternating tough grooves with straightforward rockers and the greasy “You’re in New Orleans” with yearning ballads like “Reason to My Verse” and “Nobody But You.”
“I’ve written songs from a real singer-songwriter perspective since I started writing when I was 12 or 13,” she notes. “I got into the blues and soul and funk not until I was 16 or 17. So it’s all very much part of who I am. It’s been challenging in past records to make all my writing styles fit all together; a few of them would get dropped off and left for later. I think this album really encompasses me as an artist the best so far.”
Cross-country and international tours keep her on the road most of the time, and she jokes about boarding planes with a “big Army sack” bundling a couple of guitars. “The section of my suitcase for my makeup and clothes is not as big as I want it to be,” she says, laughing. “It’s pretty small compared to the half a dozen guitar pedals and cords.”
She’ll pull out a few of those guitars to accommodate her varied slide tunings at TRiP Friday, backed by drummer Donald Barrett, bassist Dmitry Gorodetsky and keyboardist Jeff Young. Aside from the new album, she has another fun reason to celebrate: her birthday.
Kara Grainger plays a birthday show at TRiP (2102 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica) at 9 p.m. Friday, April 13. Tickets are $10. Call (310) 396-9010 or visit karagrainger.com