Gil Karson and the Karson City Rebels
The upcoming release of KCR in Enchanted Lands, the debut EP from Gil Karson and the Karson City Rebels, will establish the fast-rising Americana rock band as one of the brightest leading lights on the music scene today. Their rich sound – an artful and lively fusion of classic rock, country and blues in the tradition of the Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival – will strike a chord with listeners, but it’s the vivid stories that flow from the heart and soul of bandleader, singer and bassist Gil Karson that will stick in the thicket of one’s senses.
“Storytelling has always loomed large in my life,” says Karson, who spent years as one of Hollywood’s top editors. His music has been featured in a number of films, among them Angel Town (for which he wrote 10 songs including the title track; he also appeared in the movie with his band) and Lionheart. “I come from a show business family. My brother is a DGA director, and my father worked in radio before he moved into TV with shows like Wagon Train, My Favorite Martin and others. Whether it’s through music or images – or both – telling stories has always fascinated me.”
Recently, Karson and KCR issued their debut single, “Freedom Guaranteed,” a rousing and poignant musical salute to all the members of the U.S. military. Over a sweeping arrangement that elegantly weaves lush acoustic and electric guitars, uplifting organ swells and tasteful splashes of pedal steel, Karson sings, “They gave their lives so you and I could live free/ men and women who served our country/ from the birth of our nation until today/ they stood up proud for the U.S.A./ they’ve always been there in our time of need/ to keep our freedom… freedom guaranteed.”
Musically and lyrically, “Freedom Guaranteed” hits an emotional bullseye – it was
recently honored with a Bronze Medal in the Americana genre at the 2023 Global Music
Awards. As Karson, who wrote the song with Alan Nathanson, explains, “The idea was to thank the men and women who have given their lives so that we can enjoy our freedom. I’m not trying to be evangelical about it or change hearts and minds. I’m just incredibly thankful to all who serve and have served. If I’m not free, then I can’t pursue my life the way I want. I can’t go out and play the music I love.”
Karson directed the inspirational video for “Freedom Guaranteed,” mixing live footage of the band with dramatic scenes honoring the U.S. military. “The response to the song and video has been incredible,” he says. “We plan to re-release it in November for Veteran’s Day, and we’ll release it each year after that. It’s the kind of message that needs to stay front and center.”
In time for New Year’s Eve, the band will release another song bound to become an annual favorite – “Let’s Party,” a driving, hook-filled sing-along sure to get feet moving and glasses raised. Both songs will be featured on KCR in Enchanted Lands, along with the full-speed rocker “Runaway Train” and the good-time barn burner “Big City Full of Love.” Of the stirring, faith-based ballad “Your Spirit is Alive,” Karson says, “It’s a song about losing someone, but in a way you never lose that person – their spirit lives inside of you. Whenever we play it live, you can see it really touches people.”
Karson and KCR (which includes guitarists Kyle Appleton and Chris Brooks, multi-instrumentalist Jon Adams, Jon Greathouse on keyboards and vocals, and drummer Brian “Dog Boy” Burwell) are putting the finishing touches on the EP – and a forthcoming full album, due later in 2024 – at Studio Hill Austin. Karson is co-producing both discs with Grammy winner Gerhard Joost (noted for his work with Sangeeta, Stevie Wonder, Missy Elliot, among others). Additional recording took place at Sal Rodriguez’s studio in Los Angeles (Rodriguez is the known to music fans as the drummer for the band War).
“Working on both the EP and the album have been incredible experiences,” Karson says. “Live, the band has been able to establish its sound and identity, and it’s all coming through on the recordings – the performances and sonic quality are top notch. It’s not a computerized effort – this is a live band throwin’ down together. Hearing the results of these sessions has been so validating. It’s really boosted my confidence and belief in what we’re doing.” He pauses, then adds, “Of course, none of it would be possible without such a brilliant group of players. I’m so blessed to have such a great band with me.”
Karson also sings the praises guest player Michael Keene, guitarist with the celebrated death metal band the Faceless. “Michael is my nephew in-law,” he explains. “He plays the solo on ‘Freedom Guaranteed’ and he wrote ‘Let’s Party’ with me, which he also plays on. The guy’s just remarkable.” A strong contender for the album is the ripping hard rocker “Game Time,” tailor-made for sports shows, which features Keene’s incendiary speed metal arpeggios. “It’s pretty exciting stuff,” Karson raves.
During 2023, Karson and KCR thrilled audiences in concert – on select dates, they opened for legendary guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, including a show at the iconic L.A. venue, the Troubadour. Once they complete their studio work, they aim to hit the road again and have already booked a March appearance at SxSW in Austin.
“We’re so excited about everything we’re doing in the studio, and we can’t wait to get out there and play these songs for the people,” Karson says. “Our music covers all the bases – there’s tunes that are inspirational, some touch on personal relationships, and we have other songs where we can all just suspend reality and have fun. When you go see a band, you should get the complete experience. Those are the times you remember.”