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Album review: Victor & Penny - Side By Side

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Album review: Victor & Penny - Side By Side

(Photo by Todd Zimmer, at opening of Prairie Logic)

This week we’ll be featuring some of the artists playing at Murder Ballad Ball, this Saturday, December 8, at Davey’s Uptown. This will be the fourth annual Murder Ballad Ball, and benefits Midwest Music Foundation.

While mild thus far, winter is coming to Kansas City. But ‘lo, just in time for the holidays, the city’s favorite Antique Pop duo, Victor & Penny, dumps a treasure trove of cheery music along with deft guitar and lovely ukulele playing to warm cold and possibly bitter hearts.

Victor & Penny are back with more poppy pleasures and meandering melodies. Chalk full of twee goodness and charming renditions of old standards and a pleasing original, Side By Side: Songs for Kids of All Ages, is the second album for the merry twosome, which is made up of Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane.

Side By Side is truly a team effort comprised of not only the dynamic duo and other area musicians—including Kyle Dahlquist, Larry Garrett, Christian Hankel, James Isaac, Nate Hofer, Rick Willoughby—but also the band’s fans.  About 130 backers contributed to Victor & Penny’s Kickstarter campaign this fall to help push the album through the final stages of production.

I recommend putting on this album if you’re feeling blue. It is clear Freling and McGrane enjoy what they are doing and the feeling is contagious. The pair leads you through a pleasant journey kicking the tour off with simple and sprightly rendition of “A Smile Will Go a Long, Long Way.” I’ve heard various versions of this song, but I am supremely attracted to how Freling and McGrane arrange and perform it because of the uncomplicatedness.  

The second track, “Stomp, Stomp,” is certain to get people dancing, or at least chair dancing. It’s a little more of a laid-back cover in comparison to the original, but toe tapping all the same. Though his backing is great throughout the entire album, the use of Rick Willoughby on upright bass is especially helpful in this song.

“Slow Poke,” the third track, takes a trip on a winding road in the country. The blend of the old guitar and ukulele is especially nice on this track.

A cover of the Star Wars’ “Cantina Band” song shakes off the slowness. The reimagining of the song is very well done. I can’t help but think of the Star Wars scene set in the 1920s in a speakeasy during Prohibition. With contributions of Nate Hofer on lap steel guitar and James Isaac playing clarinet, this song is brilliant.

“Pork and Beans” is pretty much a song any kid should adore. The hook and chorus comes alive with the use of the Victor & Penny Pork and Beans Men’s Chorus, which is made up of Dahlquist, Hankel, Willoughby and Freling.

McGrane and Freling contribute an original song to the mix with “The Cat, She Played Piano.” The track has a slightly darker tone and sound to it in comparison to the other songs on the album, but delightfully dreary.  

The LP finishes off with a few more standards including “The Sheik of Araby” and “Up a Lazy River.” To sum up the journey, Freling and McGrane play the album’s title track “Side By Side.”

Victor & Penny met the goal of making an album people of all ages can appreciate.  In short, Side By Side is a great mix of songs that an entire family can enjoy. This album should be a go-to when you need a break from the all-holiday-music-all-the-time radio stations, which can make you wish you got that Red Ryder BB Gun so you could shoot your own eye out. It’s a family friendly and enchanting album!

Victor & Penny will be performing at 9:00 pm on Saturday at Murder Ballad Ball. The event kicks off at 7:00 pm at Davey’s. There will be stages on the bar side and on the venue side; the band will be performing on the bar side. Facebook event here.



--Alicia Houston



Alicia Houston eats toast, drinks coffee and drives a car. Her view on the Oxford comma continually is up for debate. When she’s had a few beers, Alicia impersonates Katherine Hepburn. She has been writing since she was five and listening to music since she was born. She has a tattoo of a gray unicorn. The unicorn gives her advice and daily affirmations.

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