Bill Kirchen Album Review: Seeds and Stems

There might as well be a big ol’ Guarantee slapped on a Bill Kirchen album.  Would anyone expect anything other than a variable delight of brilliantly executed songs that are tele-monster-guitar-lickin’ good?  Didn’t think so. I mean, when the Man in Black (Johnny F-ing Cash) has called you “great”, Rolling Stone calls your work “epic”, and you’ve racked up awards, praises from the harshest critics and the respect of every damn guitar player on the planet,  along with every moniker you’d hope for (like “King of Telecaster”, “Triumph of the Telecaster” “Titan of the Telecaster”), you know you’ve got the goods and your name is Mr. Bill Kirchen.

Seeds and Stems is one stellar collection featuring Kirchen’s favorite tunes going back to the beginning of his 40+ year career when he first began as Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.  His intent was to make a record highlighting his biggest crowd pleasers & teasers from his early days and onward, with some new arrangements. Kirchen recorded the album in London during the middle of a UK tour. It’s his real band, folks, playing real music, vibin’ on high-kick energy and road fever.

Seeds and Stems is also full of variety, as to not be a redundant rock ‘n roll, honky tonk guitar gorge. Of course, we’d have no objection to that, either.  However, Kirchen mixes it up a lot on this record, transitioning neatly between roots rock, blues, country, rockabilly, swing and truckin’ music, all the while sounding exactly like himself. He easily changes his attitude, tempo and energy throughout the album, showcasing his voice as well as guitar. Because Kirchen’s guitar playing is so consistent, those strong vocals rarely get the attention they deserve. His delivery is so skillfully matched with his arrangements, the entire framework sets the song up for full impact. Pow!

This album is so full of goodness, I can hardly contain myself. Let’s start off with the title track and one of Kirchen’s many band names, “Too Much Fun”. This song is one of the first tunes he ever penned, with help from co-writer and Commander Cody “airman” Billy Farlow. Sidenote: I have to wonder if Jimmie Vaughan was influenced by Kirchen,especially when listening to this song, as there are traces of similarity between the two artists in both guitar tone and vocal delivery.  Solid blues background spearheading a tele-blaze of rockabilly. Too Much Fun? Oh yes, that is Bill Kirchen, folks, and he’s just getting warmed up.

The next thing you know, you’re seeing Shiner bottle caps in lift-off,  smelling the prickle of sweet sawdust and hearing the swoosh-swoosh of cowboy boots two-stepping across some old Texas dancehall floor as Kirchen sings “Tell Me The Reason”, a co-write with his wife Louise and J. Sarli.

Switching down another gear is “Down To Seeds & Stems Again”, written by Commander George Frayne and Billy Farlow. This is a true-hearted country weeper, allowing a more vulnerable Kirchen to sing out oh-so-sad and sweet. Add in beautiful accents by Austin de Lone on piano and you’ve got one perfect country song (even the dog died).

“Semi-Truck” (originally named “Here I Sit, All Alone With a Broken Heart, I Took Three Bennies and My Semi-Truck Won’t Start”) is another Kirchen-Farlow co-write featuring that twisted humor we love accompanied by that tele-truckin’ sound. “Rockabilly Funeral” is about just what you think it is, with a solid groove driving the procession.

“Womb To The Tomb” brings out yet another flavor in Kirchen’s vocal delivery, this time showing a taste of Bob Dylan influence. He’s changed the arrangement, taking it down from the more frenzied live original to a slower, grittier version of this Louisiana trucker’s ghost tale. He later gives another reference to his love for Dylan with his cover of Dylan’s  “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”, in a poignant and beautiful rendition with some of the tastiest guitar fills you ever did hear.

Kirchen’s versatility is staggering. On “Flip, Flop” we are back rockin’ the blues, with toe tapping sizzle and a bit of swankiness.   “Swing Fever” is even swankier. It’s a smoky Jazz and Swing romp complimented by a bit of Kirchen humor. He crosses another genre with ease and a bit of swagger.

Then we move back to some Dudley-flavored Truckin’ music with “Truck Stop At The End Of The Road”, the guitar slipping and sliding in expert fashion. We keep truckin’ with “Mama Hated Diesels” in what might be the slowest and saddest song ever written about Big Rigs. Poor, poor Mama.

Then we have, of course, the monster signature song and legendary guitar showpiece of Kirchen’s career, “Hot Rod Lincoln.” In a guitar homage he rolls you expertly through Cash, Buddy Holly, Waylon, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rivers, Marty Robbins, Duane Eddy, Carl Perkins, Buck Owens, The Hag, Merle Travis, Ventures, Fats Domino, Deep Purple, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and many more. It is seven minutes and fifty-one seconds of music memory lane bliss.

“Talkin’ About A Chicken” closes it all out in a humorous co-write with his wife, vocalist Louise Kirchen, and Sarah Brown.   Jorma Kaukonen guests on guitar.

I’ve seen Mr. Kirchen in concert many times. The first time was at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, well over a decade ago. It was a hot and sunny Sunday show. He was sweatin’ and grinnin’ as he rocked that afternoon like it was the devil’s lair at midnight. He’s always been mind-blowing live and this record actually captures that “live” magic feel.

There are Masters among us. Effortless, consistent Masters that use music to bring joy and shake up your insides in the best possible way. Kirchen’s at the top of that list. Buy This Record. It drops June 24th on Proper Records and you can Pre-order it HERE.

~ Paul Nelson

Paul James Nelson lives with his dog, Buck, just outside of San Antonio, Texas.  He believes in guitars, dirt roads, dance halls, legalized cannabis and the power of music. He likes to write at sunrise and is working on a book about Gardening.

 

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