Every once in a great while, an artist turns in a performance so mind-blowing and genre-bending that the members of the audience may not appreciate what they’ve seen. Think Bob Dylan going electric, Run-DMC doing “Walk This Way” or Split Lip Rayfield’s Kirk Rundstrom recording an album with a drum machine. Really, it happened.

“Mishkin and I have been doing battle over whether or not she will allow an electronic drum kit onstage, and she’s threatened to boycott if I do,” collaborator Collin Mahoney says of the New Orleans-based female vocalist and rock purist in the Kirk Rundstrom Band. But on Blue China, the group’s Catamount Records release that will be available this month, electronic drums, guttural wails and twisted tales of Americana in the new millennium share equal time with the mandolins, guitars and banjos that have become part of Rundstrom’s signature sound.

In other words, don’t come to a Rundstrom show looking for unreleased Split Lip songs. In fact, fans probably shouldn’t even expect many selections from Rundstrom’s spectacular self-titled solo debut from 1999. “I don’t believe [Kirk’s] stuff will stay in the bluegrass realm the way his first record did or the way Split Lip does,” says Mahoney, who produced Blue China in addition to playing on it. “I think he wants to explore more of the territory that Scroatbelly covered when they were around.”

For anyone who witnessed one of that seminal Wichita band’s high-energy performances, that prospect is as intimidating as it is inviting, but if the Kirk Rundstrom Band has anything in common with his former band, the live show will have to find a way to top Blue China. Not an easy proposition, but if you believe Mahoney, nothing Rundstrom wants will come easy.

“We’re doing it for the kids, of course, as everybody does these days,” Mahoney says, failing to mention that the band is “keeping it real” as well, “but Kirk’s thing is that he wants to have a number-one song on the country charts, a number-one song on the dance charts and a number-one song on the pop charts, all at the same time.” Madonna, eat your heart out.

Categories: Music