Horseshoes and Hand GrenadesXtra Mile Recordings
By Dustin Blumhagen
Canadians were first introduced to Billy Pettinger through the pop punk sounds of Billy & the Lost Boys. Those who lost track of her once she began her solo career will likely be very surprised when they hear her latest offering. She has been working diligently for years, releasing great efforts that showcase her growing strengths as a songwriter. Through relentless touring, steady recorded releases and engaging creative flourishes (such as funding previous works through crowd funding by selling her own paintings and covering a huge portion of Ryan Adams’ vast catalogue on YouTube), Billy the Kid has grown her personal brand. While she has yet to see the success that she rightfully deserves, there are those who have taken notice of her music. She has toured with some of the greatest singing songwriters around today, including Billy Bragg and Chuck Ragan.
Pettinger’s hard work as an independent artist paid off when she was signed to Xtra Mile Recordings, home to Frank Turner and other renowned artists like Dave Hause and Against Me! To top things off, Turner also signed on to produce Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and duets with Pettinger on This Sure As Hell Ain’t My Life. The album explores a wide variety of sounds, which are given a sense of continuity through Pettinger’s sweet vocals. She touches on alt country, pop rock and folk punk at various points.
It makes sense that she worked with Turner on this release, as these are two of the nicest musicians you could ever hope to meet. They both are likeable figures with a slight awkwardness and tendency toward self deprecation, which just serves to make them even more loveable. The inspired duet between the two is a melancholy examination of the dissolution of an unhappy marriage, with the two artists’ contrasting voices acting as the narrators. Both artists lyrics tend to lean toward emotional expression with a strong personal connection to the material, so even when they stray from the autobiographical, you cannot help but believe every word they say.
The variation in musical styles helps keep the album flowing smoothly. The album kicks off with the angst ridden single Phone Bills, which provides the first hint of growth for the songwriter. On Thoroughfare, she channels a sweet folk song which focuses on her vocals. The somber ballad Chelsea Rose tells a sad story of an addict mother and her spiral into despair through the eyes of a friend backed by quiet guitar strumming and sparse piano accompaniment. The rousing country stomp of Walkin’ Around Hotel Blues is a fun dance number complete with gang vocals and harmonica solos. Things pick up with Back to You, a rock song that fits in nicely with recent Frank Turner releases. The haunted country of Virginia brings to mind Whiskeytown in their prime, while the guitar heavy punk snarl of Lord Let Me sounds like it was written by Greg MacPherson. Her influences are proudly worn on her sleeve and the album is stronger because of it. With this release she has successfully proven that she is a peer to these great artists and deserves to be recognized as such.
It is a pleasure to hear a strong offering from a female songwriter. The punk scene has opened it’s arms to the singer songwriter genre, but the notable releases to date have all come from male artists. This is a well written album which highlights the personal growth and musical maturation of Billy the Kid.