Review: Bill Kirchen Word to the Wise (Proper American)

Bill Kirchen, the former Commander Cody guitarist most famous as the stylistic chameleon on “Hot Rod Lincoln,” has made a lot of musical friends during 40 or so years in the business.
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Bill Kirchen, the former Commander Cody guitarist most famous as the stylistic chameleon on “Hot Rod Lincoln,” has made a lot of musical friends during 40 or so years in the business. His latest “solo” album, Word to the Wise, features duets where Kirchen—whose style has been termed “dieselbilly”—shares the spotlight with some of those musical friends. The result is sort of an awesome rock ’n’ roll review—recorded in many and various locations—with Kirchen’s Telecaster mastery at its core.

Highlights include Nick Lowe and Paul Carrack singing Everly Brothers–style on Merle Haggard’s “Shelly’s Winter Love”; Elvis Costello’s sinister, sneering vocal on the Kirchen/Johnny Castle/Austin de Lone song “Man in the Bottom of the Well”; and Dan Hicks co-writing and trading lines with Kirchen on the hot band–style title track. Other guests include Maria Muldaur, Commander Cody, Chris O’Connell and Kevin “Blackie” Farrell.

One more guest: On the closing track, an uptempo road song called “Valley of the Moon,” there’s a harmonica part by the late Norton Buffalo. In the press materials for Word to the Wise, Kirchen recalls, “Norton sadly succumbed to cancer shortly after cutting the track for this record. He is greatly missed. Norton solos on ‘Valley of the Moon,’ which I wrote for [my wife] Louise after a trip to Glen Ellen, California, where we had lived and married 35 years before. We were on our way to attend a wake for our friend Chris Gaffney, and the song took on special poignancy after Norton’s death.”

You don’t have a lot of friends in the music business without losing a few, but Word to the Wise is a great tribute to those musical friendships and sessions when everything just clicks.

Producer: Paul Riley. Engineers: Riley, Neil Brockbank, Joel Jaffe, Mark Senasac, John Jennings, Frank Moscowitz, Troy Pohl, Kirchen, Mike Fraser, Eric Mosher. Studios: Specific Sound, Goldtop Studio (both in London), Studio D (Sausalito, CA), Yellow Teapot (San Francisco), Red Hill (Charlottesville, VA), Collar City Sound (Troy, NY), M&P Productions (Owings, MD), Anne and Herbert’s Hit Shack (Lottsburg, VA), Fur Peace Ranch (Pomeroy, OH), Charlie Irwin’s (Austin), The Warehouse (Vancouver, BC). Mastering: David Glasser/Airshow (Boulder, CO).