I've seen Kirk Fletcher play live, and he's a jaw dropping guitarist. Joe Bonamassa may be prone to tossing his patronage around like confetti, but his remark that Kirk Fletcher is "hands down, one of the best blues guitarists in the world" may conceivably have a point. Unfortunately, this self-released live set recorded in LA in 2013 doesn't really do him justice.
Six of the eleven tracks here are instrumentals, perhaps reflecting the fact that Kirk's vocals are in the Albert King vein, serviceable in terms of swing, but short on power. And in any event where there are vocals they really just provide a frame for the accompanying instrumental workouts.
The former Fabulous Thunderbird gives a heavy nod towards his Texas blues connection with the opening, Freddie King-ish 'Funnybone', and a subsequent cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan's slow blues 'Lenny'. The former takes off from a likeable theme into a leaping, jazzy guitar solo, followed by an organ solo played out over funky drums. The latter is subtle and restrained, before building into a wig-out guitar solo.
Highlights include the gentle and soulful Bobby Womack cover 'I'm In Love', with a swelling keyboard solo, the funkier, Latin-style 'Congo Square'. The closing 'Ain't No Way' displays a more relaxed, confident vocal, and solos that are punctuated by dynamic riffing that exemplify the balance in Fletcher's playing. As someone once said of Rory Gallagher, he seems to have he happy knack of being able to play the rhythm and lead parts at the same time.
Essentially, the production is under-powered. The jazzy drums are high in the mix, but much of the time the bass seems to be buried, so that when it does jab through it comes as a surprise. The audience reaction is scarcely audible, which is bizarre considering the impact I've seen him have playing live. A studio engineer friend suggests it has been recorded direct from the desk, which would explain the lack of ambience.
There's a great album to be had from Kirk Fletcher, in the hands of a sympathetic producer - this is just an audition.