Telecaster master Bill Kirchen celebrates new CD ‘Seeds and Stems’ on West Coast tour
Bill Kirchen, dubbed “The Titan of the Telecaster” by Guitar Player magazine, is in California and Oregon for a series of twang-driven CD release shows for “Seeds and Stems.” Kirchen’s longtime bandmates Jack O’Dell (drums) and Maurice Cridlin (bass) and (for select shows) special guest Austin de Lone complete the line-up.
Kirchen first rode into prominence in the late 1960s and early ’70s on his big guitar lines that were such an integral part of the country-with-a-60s-twist sound of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, including powering their hit “Hot Rod Lincoln” to the tops of the charts — and Kirchen hasn’t stepped on the brakes yet. In addition to his band work with Commander Cody, The Moonlighters, and extensive work with the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, Kirchen has recorded ten critically acclaimed solo albums — including the recently-released “Seeds and Stems” — that have cemented his position as one of the founding fathers of the many-spoked wheel of Americana music.
Trying to fit Kirchen into narrow categories misses the point of his extraordinary and joyful versatility as a musician and performer. He is, first and foremost, a guitar player of jaw-dropping talent: Kirchen produces sounds from his Fender Telecaster that range from full-throated to soaring, from delicate bell-like runs to growling base lines — all accomplished with apparent ease and as if the guitar is an extension of himself, almost a second voice rather than a separate instrument.
Kirchen is one of the very few musicians who first made his mark as an instrumentalist who has won substantial additional acclaim as a vocalist, bandleader, and tunesmith. Matching his baritone voice to the needs of each tune, Kirchen hits the right tone on songs as varied as country weepers (“Down to Seeds and Stems Again”), full-on rockers (“Man In The Bottom of The Well”), the swampy “Rockabilly Funeral”, and the contagiously joyful of “Too Much Fun.” Writing songs in a range of tone and topics from fun (“I Don’t Work That Cheap”, with Blackie Farrell) to reflective (“Rocks Into Sand”) and a jaunty combination of the two (“Bump Wood”), Kirchen has something to say and the vocal, instrumental, and performance chops to say it well.
“Seeds and Stems” (released June 18 on Proper Records) is a strong case in point. Recorded in London with his touring band — Jack O’Dell on drums and Maurice “Mac” Cridlin on bass, as well as long-time collaborator Austin de Lone on piano — between gigs on a two week UK tour, Kirchen’s tenth solo album features 13 tracks picked from his 40-plus years’ catalogue played with the energy and immediacy of his legendarily personable and high octane shows. Not interested in recording carbon copies of what he’d done previously, Kirchen and his band retooled the songs to varying degrees.
For example, the 2013 version of “Down To Seeds And Stems Again” features acoustic (yes, acoustic) guitar that evokes a bittersweet feeling of sitting outside a cantina on a warm, starry night. “Womb To The Tomb” (a country-meets-surf truck-drivin’ rouser on 1996’s “Have Love, Will Travel”) is reborn as a propulsive mid-tempo piece powered by Kirchen’s searing electric guitar and O’Dell’s humid drumming and ornamented with moments of elegiac organ that slide past like ghostly clumps Spanish moss illuminated by high beams — perfect for a song dealing with life, death, 18-wheelers, and the Louisiana stretch of Interstate 10.
The latest incarnation of “Too Much Fun,” which started life back in Kirchen’s Cody days as a carefree blues-based romp with a fairgrounds feel, still packs a wallop of joy while transformed into a muscular rocker with Kirchen’s signature guitar work and the lead and harmony vocals given a more brawny treatment than in the original.
In less skillful hands, recording new versions of audience favorites is playing with fire, but “Seeds and Stems” is a thoroughly satisfying album bursting with vitality. Says Kirchen, “I could have called this record Why I Love My Job. I got to write or co-write most of the songs, sing ’em, play a whole mess of guitar, and record with some of my favorite musicians on the planet. Thank you.”
Kirchen, who consistently delivers some of the best shows in the business, will be accompanied by his long-time band Too Much Fun (Jack O’Dell on drums and Mac Cridlin on bass) on this run of CD release concerts. Irrepressible keyboardist, guitarist, accordionist and vocalist Austin de Lone will join Kirchen as a special guest at selected shows.
Bill Kirchen will fire up his trusty Telecaster for a round of too much fun celebrating “Seeds and Stems” at The Palms Playhouse (13 Main Street in Winters) on Saturday, July 27 at 8 PM. Tickets are $20 and are available at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com or billkirchen.com.
Bill Kirchen’s West Coast CD release tour schedule:
~ Friday July 26—The Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, CA
~ Saturday July 27—The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA
~ Tuesday July 30—Don Quixote’s, Felton, CA
~ Wednesday July 31—Ives Park, Sebastopol, CA
~ Thursday August 1—Cow Track Lounge, Oakdale, CA
~ Friday, August 2—Duff’s Garage, Portland, OR