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CD Review Roots rock hero delivers his most accomplished album to date



Bill Kirchen - Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods

By: Scott Homewood

Proper American\par No matter what you think about this album, the title alone should win a couple of awards at the Grammys next year. I mean, the theory of a guitar (the Fender Telecaster specifically, natch) being akin to Thor's Hammer in the hands of guitar slingers everywhere is some fucking powerful imagery, in my book. And if anyone's got the talent or rep to be looked at as a Honky Tony God, it's Kirchen.

For many years The Ann Arbor native was the guitarist and frequent songwriter for Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and was largely responsible for the band's hits Hot Rod Lincoln (which is still a live powerhouse for Kirchen, who uses the song as a vehicle for his stylistic impersonations of other guitarists like Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix, among many, many others. He often stuffs about twenty or thirty impersonations into every performance and it's the usual finale of his concerts) and Down To Seeds and Stems Again Blues. Then, in the early '80's, Kirchen left Commander Cody and formed his own band The Moonlighters which put out two albums, one of them produced by Kirchen's pal Nick Lowe. Kirchen had met the one-time Jesus Of Cool when Commander Cody toured England with Lowe's old band Brinsley Schwartz. Lowe has always been able to spot talent (just ask Elvis Costello, whom Lowe discovered and produced) and eventually tapped Kirchen's guitar prowess for Lowe's own Party Of One CD and Impossible Bird CDs. After touring with Lowe, Kirchen decided to become a solo artist and recorded several wonderfully roots rocking albums for the Rounder Records distributed Blacktop Records label and later for the Hightone label. Like his previous output, this album will appeal to any fans of roots rock and hard-core country, but in actuality, this album is actually the most eclectic he has ever released. With Kirchen's guitar playing prowess in top form and his vocal and songwriting work at an apex, Kirchen has crafted what can only be called a "career album". The only thing weird about it is there isn't a song about trucks to be found on the whole CD! In fact, although he has left the dieselbilly genre off of this album, there aren't too many facets of Americiana music he doesn't touch on this set. Of special note is the slowed down version of the classic "Devil With The Blue Dress" that serves as the centerpiece of the album. While most of Kirchen's work rightfully showcases his demon guitar skills, this song (and the album as a whole) is more focused on Kirchen's skills as an ensemble player, lending the spotlight more often to the songs itself whether it is a cover or an original. And with players on board like keyboardist Geraint Watkins and old buddy Lowe on bass and backup vocals, he has a band who can keep up with his cutting licks. Two more standouts are Kirchen's cover of Arthur Alexander's "If It's Really Got To Be This Way and Kirchen's own rockabilly roof-raiser "Heart Of Gold". The plethora of varied music styles on this album is mind-boggling.

This album will no doubt please anyone interested in blazing guitar work and Americana song styles, in all their varied forms. Kirchen is a true American music treasure and hopefully the general public will wake up to his gifts while he is still making music. This is probably the best pure roots album of the year so far. Pick it up.



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