Bentley's Bandstand: Bill Kirchen's Word to the Wise

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Bill Kirchen, Word To The Wise, Proper American

Just when it seems like every guest artist album has been made, and are even starting to drift into the area of gags—what’s next, Paul Anka and Axl Rose sing the songs of Sesame Street? Leave it to master stringbender Bill Kirchen to wipe the slate clean and come up with an intriguingly irresistible collection.

Part of the allure of Word To The Wise is that it isn’t over the top; that is, much of the set’s strength can be traced directly to Kirchen himself on songs like “Bump Wood,” “Time will Tell the Story” and “Arkansas Diamond,” where the Titan of the Telecaster lets his electric guitar fly and his voice roll like an emotional Peterbilt right over the soul. This man has poetry in him, not to mention a little red book right out of rock & roll’s central casting office.

Check this action. Singers Nick Lowe and Paul Carrack team up on Merle Haggard’s “Shelly’s Winter Love” to break the heart into 3,264 pieces, and then sell them for driftwood when the duo is done. Elvis Costello ties himself into a pretzel, along with help from Bill Kirchen guitaristics on “Man at the Bottom of the Well,” while this album’s bandleader’s original bandlander Commander Cody (of Lost Planet Airmen renown) fries “I Don’t Work that Cheap” into big greasy slabs. One of the original Berkeley “cowpie” conglomerations, Asleep at the Wheel, featured absolutely alluring lead vocalist Chris O’Connell, who returns now to stop time, turn on the teardrop facet, watch the couple go into cardiac arrest and stick around to tie the toe tags on Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives.” Seriously, that’s how devastating this song done by her and Kirchen is here. You’ll never think of two lovers breaking up the same ever again.

Former fellow Airman Kevin “Blackie” Ferrell steps to the vocal mic for the first time on his own “Open Range” to scare the snakes right out from under the rocks, and possibly prove he’s tough enough to be immune to water moccasin venom anyway. A classic chillbumper for those prone to fear and nightmare nostalgia. Next up is San Francisco’s original psychedelic musical prankster, Dan Hicks, who co-founded the Charlatans and set the whole circus in motion 45 years ago. On the title song he and Kirchen are up to Hick’s old tricks, mixing humor and heartbreak like only these veterans really can. Another original visionary troupe, Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band, spotlighted Maria D’Amato, who soon married Geoff Muldaur and got on with a stellar duo and solo career that continues brightly to this day.

“Ain’t Got Time for the Blues” lets Ms. Muldaur turn on her lovepipes in all their sultry glory, letting us in on one of today’s true treasures. And as all fine things must do, the album ends with the sad end of harmonica-ace Norton Buffalo’s shining life. Let it be said Buffalo blew long and strong, gracing countless recordings and bandstands, and wraps things up somewhat on “Valley of the Moon” with old friend Kirchen for a happy tale of salvation and understanding.

In a crowded world of endless marketing, shameless promotion and, finally, circular logic, Bill Kirchen steps outside the hurricane and hones in on good friends, wild memories and fine, fine music. It’s what brought him here today, and no doubt will take all these fellow travelers to tomorrow. Sign up now.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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