For Canadian singer-songwriter Billy Pettinger (aka Billy The Kid) it has always been about the D.I.Y approach. A lot of her records have been maybe possible by crowd funding and her fans have always played a part getting her songs out there. To say she’s a prolific songwriter is an understatement.Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her seventh release under the moniker Billy The Kid, she clearly has no with her songwriting process. It is this hard working mentality that really makes her stand out from other artists. On her latest release she sings about us tales of suburbia, but she does go deeper and stray away from more typical singer-songwriter tropes.
The album open’s with a bright and fiery number “Phone Bills”, that deals with the constant phone calls when being in a relationship. Pettinger speaks of her regret and whether all the calls were worth it in the end “And for the thousands of dollars of phone bills, I still don’t know if you understand me” sums it up. The momentum continues from there with “Riverbank” that is much more parred back and again harps on about young love. There is a nice mix of acoustic and soft rock here that is the foundation for her stories.
“The Quarry” brings things down a bit, starting off with just an acoustic guitar and singing, before some tasteful drums and silky lead guitar. Pettinger reminisces of her childhood down in the quarry and when things went wrong. There is a dark undercurrent to the song that really makes it stand out from the rest of the songs. It’s a moody ballad that sticks in the memory and is one of the best tracks on the album. “Chelsea Rose” starts out a cappella before introducing the acoustic and some subtle piano. It deals with the loss and is one of the more moving tracks on the album.
The second half of the album is a mixed bag with some songs that mnake their mark, but others that feel dispensable. “Virgnia” is an excellent track that is probably the most fully realised track on the album. Sometimes simplicity makes a greater impact and this time Pettinger’s catchy air and some a country inspired guitar chords make for an acoustic pop powerhouse. Pettinger perfectly describes how a place can have a special place in your heart and you can find it hard to leave. A harmonica lead at the end gives the song that Virgnia flavour that perfectly compliments the song. The closer “Young + On Fire” again she touches on young love and the innocence of the experience. It’s a fitting way to the end the album with just Pettinger and her guitar to finish the album.
As an album it’s inconsistent with a mix of acoustic ballads and more hard hitting rock influenced songs. The songs that have the most lasting impact tend to be the more traditional singer-songwriter numbers. “The Quarry”, “Virginia” and even a timely duet with english songwriter Frank Turner “This Sure As Hell Ain’t My Life” are all great tracks. They showcase what she is good at, which are songs that have a strong sense of identify and are stories about her past and present. For the more rock edge songs on the album, while in terms of the music it is quite interesting and holds its own, the songwriting takes a hit. They seem to a bit more stereotypical lyrically and there are shades of Tom Petty here. Even in Pettinger’s vocals on these tracks seemed to be forced a little bit. Her voice shines when there is a subtle accompaniment and where it’s given room. On the some of the more cluttered tracks, her voice becomes part of the backdrop. Overall, as an album it’s uneven but enjoyable, with moments that paint a portrait of a D.I.Y artist that stands out, in the days of processed pop artists.