For most bands, stepping into the national spotlight and earning kudos from a Grammy winner takes years, if it ever happens at all. For Denver-based Rachel and the Kings , that validation came after just four rehearsals. That was the extent of formal practicing the quintet had under its belt before conquering thousands of other bands to win Ford’s national Gimme the Gig II  competition last year.
“It was really intense,” says frontwoman and Denver native Rachel James of her band’s brief preparation for the contest. “It was a fantastic test of what everyone was capable of.” That adept capability will be on display at Friday’s CD release show, which heralds the local release of debut album Tonic (a national release is set for March). James and her Kings—bassist Noah Matthews, violinist Ian Short, drummer Stefan Runstrom, and guitarist Steven Beck—will play the album in its entirety, punctuating the release’s tracks with a smattering of new songs. If the fresh offerings are anything like singles “Underwater” and “Not Giving Up,” expect James’ powerful vocals to soar over the band’s roaring pop-rock soundtrack.
The album’s unveiling is the latest milestone in the band’s recent winning streak, which includes a top-three placing in 93.3 KTCL’s annual Hometown for the Holidays contest in December and its triumph during Gimme the Gig II. As part of the latter contest’s prize, head judge Don Was—a Grammy-winning producer that has collaborated with icons such as The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan—produced Rachel and the Kings’ track “Underwater.”
Though the recording process was quick—just a half-day to lay down the vocals and instruments for the band’s track “Underwater”—James says getting one-on-one time with Was proved invaluable. “It was incredible,” says James. “We talked about the difference between making sound and making music, something that becomes a part of someone else’s life and world.”
The final rounds of Gimme the Gig II were filmed and broadcast in Los Angeles for a three-part TV series, the first episode  of which also featured Denver acts Bop Skizzum and Josh Blackburn.
Can’t make it to the CD release show on the 25th? Rachel and the Kings returns to the Bluebird Theater on March 8 with fellow Denver rockers My Body Sings Electric. Fri 8:30 p.m., Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave.
—Photo by Christopher Kuehl