65 years young this June, Telecaster master Bill Kirchen is still picking and a’ grinning like tykes a third of his age wish they could – a smooth combination of tasteful and tasty.
Kirchen’s style has remained the same since he first caught the world’s ear as a founding member of Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen back in 1967: groove and melody come first; no flash for flash’s sake; but if there’s a straight stretch here and there, sure – let the twin glasspacks bark … and save passing gear until you really, really need it. Some folks hit you over the head with everything they know every time they strap a guitar over their shoulders; the cool thing about Bill Kirchen is, you keep finding out that this son of a gun can do about anything he wants on that Telecaster – and the longer you listen, the more you find out. Plus, there’s humor tucked in there more often than not, so not only will Kirchen make your head spin with his picking talent, but your face is likely to ache from smiling so much.
There’s worse problems to have, folks.
Whether you’re a longtime Bill Kirchen fan or new to the fold, Seeds And Stems gets the job done. A mix of originals and covers (including rearrangements of some BK classics), Seeds And Stems is a well-stocked buffet of moods, beats, and vibes. Kirchen and his touring band (bassist Maurice Cridlin and drummer Jack O’Dell) dove in to the studio for a bunch of sessions in-between gigs on a UK tour last year, making use of road tightness and let-the-tape-roll spontaneity.
Numerous friends land a musical hand here and there, but at the album’s core are Kirchen’s vocals and guitar work, whether it’s the raunchy Texas-flavored twang of “Too Much Fun” (a nugget from the early days with Cody) or the clean and soulful and damn-near-jazzy take on Mr. Dylan’s “It Take A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”. “Down To Seeds And Stems Again” is another Lost Planet Airmen standard, one of the many blessed with the ability to have the reddest of rednecks and the freakiest of freaks singing the chorus together in perfect harmony. (For the most part, the tune is an acoustic one, but Kirchen’s Tele makes a cameo on the break and it’s the perfect tool for the job.)
“Flip Flop” and “Swing Fever” – the latter featuring the great line “I’m sittin’ here buzzin’ like a cheap TV” – let Kirchen’s inner hipster shine through; “Rockabilly Funeral” lays down a slinky camel walk with slicked-back hair; and “Tell Me The Reason” cruises the main drag of Bakersfield, but Kirchen’s solo goes beyond twang as it ripples and burbles its way along.
There’s plenty of the dieselbilly that Kirchen’s famous for: “Mama Hated Diesels” might cause you to wipe at an eye while tugging at the visor of your cap; “Semi-Truck” – with the immortal chorus
Now here I sit
All alone with a broken heart
I took three bennies
And my semi-truck won’t start
probably won’t put a tear in your eye, but it’s a fun gear-banging rubber-burner. And “Womb To The Tomb” is reborn here as a hybrid Cajun waltz with Kirchen’s Tele sounding all rubbery and growly – in the bestest of ways.
Kirchen’s been playing “Hot Rod Lincoln” for a long, long time – but the version on Seeds And Stems is a big ol’ goofy good time, as Bill and the boys take off on a nearly 5-minute-long tear of musical quotations that cover everyone from Johnny Cash to The Sex Pistols. More than just a novelty tune, “Hot Rod Lincoln” is a showcase for just what Leo Fender’s timeless design can do in the hands of a master.
The album closes with one more smile as Jorma Kaukonen drops by to lay down some fine finger picking on “Talkin’ About Chicken” – a song that deserves some sort of award for combining sweetness and filth.
All in all, Seeds And Stems is a good time for all. Throw it on, turn it up, and get ready to sing, dance, and grin.
Brian Robbins gets his fingers greasy (are we talkin’ about love or talkin’ about chicken?) over at www.brian-robbins.com