Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful blues, soulful album with scintillating guitar throughout in a set of songs built around melody and emotions rather than just frameworks for the guitar.
When a blues guitarist achieves an accolade from none other than Joe Bonamassa who said of him, “Kirk is hands-down one of the best blues guitarists in the world” then you know you have to pay attention. The Kirk in question is Kirk Fletcher who has a history of working with many stars of the blues firmament: Bonamassa, Al Blake, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Doyle Bramhall to name a few and, for three years, he was lead guitarist for The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He took up guitar at the age of eight, playing with his brother in their father’s church. It was Blake who was ultimately responsible for Kirk’s blues infusion as he introduced him to the blues of the early 20th century. His latest album, Heartache By The Pound, is his seventh and further enhances his inherent talent for the blues (be it infused with rock, soul, gospel or funk) and for his mastery of the guitar as an instrument of expression, not a vehicle for flashiness or needless noodling.
Kirk explains his approach modestly: “I’ve been [playing guitar] my whole life, so it’s an extension of who I am. It’s like a personal PA system to make things louder and put that soul out there. Every note is a continuation of my childhood, growing up in church, and all the things I love. That’s what’s most important to me about guitar playing. At the end of the day, I’m just a bluesman.”
The opener, Shine A Light On Love, encapsulates what I like about Kirk…he can put soul into the blues and keep it blue enough for my biased earholes. This swingy soul, gospel, blues song is uplifting in itself, but when you listen to the guitar phrases between the lines and the exquisite soloing, you can hear why JB is such a fan. Afraid To Die, Too Scared To Live is a sort of EW&F but with added blues and more scintillating guitar that illuminates the whole track…the solo is so expressive that it almost doesn’t need vocals to explain anything. This kind of song wouldn’t normally feature high on my list, but the solos make it essential listening.
The title track, Heartache By The Pound, leans heavily on soul with a genius bass bringing the soul/funk blend alive while the guitar sparkles with clever chord work and another quality solo. Any song from the great Albert King needs to be done well and, on I’ve Made Nights By Myself, Kirk takes the essence of King’s blues, puts his stamp on it, and makes it work very, very well indeed. (It’s also pleasing to hear one of Albert’s lesser known, rarely covered songs such as this 1961 single.)
The Night’s Calling For You is pure, crystalline, slow soulful blues, that has an Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City feel and suffers only because the guitar solo is short. Wrapped Up, Tangled Up in the Blues is one of my favourites as it combines the blues and R’n’B in a delicate, clever and gospel-tinged song that also has some of the best guitar tones and playing on the album…the two solos are majestic
. Wrong Kinda Love and I Can’t Find No Love were written by Dennis Walker who, I am assuming, is the Dennis that worked so effectively with BB King and Robert Cray. The first is a guitar treat over a mild funk, following the delightful drum intro. The latter is slow, languid, soulful and (in my blinkered view) a bit too soulful but always listenable and rescued by that superb guitar playing. Wild Cat Tamer is from the pen of Tarheel Slim (or Allen Rathel Bunn to give him his full name), and Kirk supplies a fascinating cover of the 1958 single. Tarheel’s early work was bluesy rockabilly but, after a long layoff, he emerged in the 70s playing acoustic more in the vein of players like Brownie McGhee. I have only heard the original and a clever cover by Spanish/English piano man Mike Sanchez. Kirk however, goes with the Tarheel feel with extra piano and a cleaner guitar…it is a very intelligent interpretation. The piano solo is inspired and the guitar solo is a stroke of genius in the way it is of the time and up to date too.
The closing track, Hope For Us, is a suitable climactic climax for the album…a ballad with quality R’n’b wrapping all around it and, after the tension reaches its peak, he delivers a simply stunning solo.
Another wonderful album from Kirk with a set of songs and guitar embellished tracks that should satisfy blues and soul lovers everywhere.
Shine A Light On Love
Afraid To Die, Too Scared To Live
Heartache By The Pound
I’ve Made Nights By Myself – Albert King
The Night’s Calling For You
Wrapped Up, Tangled Up in the Blues
Wrong Kinda Love – Dennis Walker
I Can’t Find No Love – Dennis Walker
Wild Cat Tamer – Tarheel Slim (Allen Rathel Bunn)
Hope For Us – Kirk Fletcher
All tracks by Kirk Fletcher and Richard Cousins except where noted.
Heartache By The Pound is out now on Kirk’s newly launched independent label Ogierea Records.
Connect with Kirk Fletcher across SOCIAL MEDIA
(iTunes, after some more Kirk from his Hold On album, moved into metal and the inspired pairing of vocalists Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville…the dramatic, operatic and metallic Silence is a blast.)