Bill Kirchen

Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods

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The title cut of Bill Kirchen's seventh solo album, Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods, is a loving tribute to the Fender Telecaster, the axe that's been Kirchen's instrument of choice since he started picking with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in 1967, but while there's plenty of fine guitar work on this album (which from Kirchen should go without saying), this isn't the straight-ahead honky tonk session you might expect given Kirchen's back catalog. While the title cut and "Get a Little Goner" would sound great pouring out of any beer joint's jukebox, Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods is one of Kirchen's most eclectic sets to date, with the bandleader demonstrating his skills on the acoustic swing of "One More Day," offering up a slow and slinky cover of "Devil with a Blue Dress On," laying out some prime rockabilly on "Heart of Gold" that would do the Sun Studio proud, delivering a potent countrypolitan weeper in "Skid Row in My Mind," and closing out the set with a tear-jerking version of Arthur Alexander's "If It's Really Got to Be This Way." (Even more significantly, there isn't a single song about trucks to be found!) While Kirchen is still a top-rank guitar man judging from his work here, these sessions find him laying back just a bit, and rather than blazing through his solos, he aims for an ensemble feel, and with his band for these sessions including Nick Lowe, Geraint Watkins, and Robert Trehern, that sounds like a sound strategy on his part. Bill Kirchen has been making fine albums for quite a while, but he's stretched his boundaries a bit with Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods, and the result is 11 top-notch tunes that show just how many things he can do well; it's fun and impressive stuff from a true master of American roots rock.

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