A contemporary take on classic blues
It probably adds nothing to one’s sense of musical appreciation but as a guitar player, I find it’s hard not to listen to guitar players with a heightened sense of interest and, often, a super-critical ear. This can result in one being occasionally sniffy about whomever and heaping praise on another with the air of an expert on the Antiques Road Show delivering a verdict on some item recently discovered in the loft.
With that in mind, it has to be said that, in my opinion, the Californian guitarist has, next to Robert Cray, just about the best classic blues chops around. The comparison to Robert Cray is an obvious one given that they both play stylish blues with a soulful and relaxed groove, where the quality of the song is the focus and not just an old peg to hang a tedious solo on. The connection between the two is reinforced on this excellent album by the presence of long time Cray bassist, Richard Cousins, as a co-writer on two tracks, “No Place to Go” and “Love is More than a Word”.
The first of these sounds like a classic Cray cut, opening with an understated descending guitar pattern before muted horns give it that timeless soulful feel, reinforced by equally restrained organ and lines like “One man’s loss is another man’s gain, you get it all, just don’t feel the same, one man’s pride is another man’s shame…”. It’s kind of amazing, given the wonky vocals from some guitarists out there, that Kirk didn’t sing on his own records until his third album “My Turn” in 2010. Amazing in that he has a rich tone and as smoothly comforting a delivery as a bartender pouring out a well-shaken cocktail. Top that off with guitar playing that is as delicious as a long cool drink on a hot day and you have quite a combination. It’s hard to truly describe guitar playing without referring to someone else, so I won’t even try. Just think of any of the more feted American blues guitarists, people like BB King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy plus innumerable others and imagine if someone took all of their stylistic flourishes and trademark licks and distilled it into something that isn’t quite a copy and isn’t quite unique but just sounds like every note has gone through a tasteful filter and been blessed with an authentic stamp of approval from the blues gods.
Just like Robert Cray, the guitar playing sounds effortless, as if Kirk Fletcher is just noodling around at home. On that note, like many guitar players, Kirk’s guitar playing at home is on view in those short video clips that guitar players like to post, of which there are an overwhelming amount available on social media. Unlike some well-known guitar players, who almost neurotically feel they have to continually demonstrate that they can shred at a million miles/notes an hour, his clips are excellent demos of his extraordinarily tasty playing. He has included a number of covers in with the home-grown material and, by judiciously selecting more obscure cuts (for me anyway) and arranging them in his own style, has maintained a homogenous feel throughout.
The covers are generally more upbeat numbers, like “Rather Fight than Switch” by AC Reed (sax player with Albert Collins and Earl Hooker) with its tremolo tinged riff that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an album by his former employer “The Fabulous Thunderbirds.” This features some really fierce soloing – not the type that results from turning up to 11 and hitting the overdrive pedal, but from a genuine attack on the strings. “Fatting Frogs for Snakes” is a Sonny Boy Williamson cover that doesn’t sound anything like its originator, driven along by a repeated guitar and organ motif. “Life Gave Me a Dirty Deal” by Juke Boy Bonner is the only musical departure, taking us back to a Delta back porch with a stripped-down acoustic sound featuring some fabulous harmonica from another ex-employer, Charlie Musselwhite, and contributions from old friend Josh Smith on National Resophonic guitar.
“D for Denny”, a tribute to an early inspiration, Texas guitar player Denny Freeman, is a steaming instrumental take on a strutting Texas blues (with overtones of Freddie King). I hadn’t come across this talented musician until I saw him trade solos as a guest at a Joe Bonamassa gig a couple of years. If like me, you have been missing out on his superb guitar playing up to now, it’s time to get acquainted with him on his latest release.
Bluesdoodles rating: Wonderful Will bring added ENJOYMENT to your collection
1. No Cure For The Downhearted
2. No Place To Go
3. Love Is More Than A Word
4. Struggle For Grace
5. Rather Fight Than Switch
6. Heart So Heavy
7. Fattening Frogs For Snakes
8. Place In This World Somewhere
9. D Is For Denny
10. Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal
Kirk Fletcher: Guitar & Vocals
Travis Carlton: Bass
Lemar Carter: Drums (tracks 1,2 & 3)
Jeff Babko: Keyboards
Joe Sublett: Saxophone
Mark Pender: Trumpet
Former guitarist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and award-winning American blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher is very happy to release his sixth album ‘My Blues Pathway‘ via Cleopatra Records. The 10 tracks will be released on CD, vinyl and digital on Friday 25th September 2020. The album is available to pre-order from https://orcd.co/kirk_fletcher_my_blues_pathway.