Saturday, July 30, 2022

Kirk Fletcher - Heartache By The Pound

The song remains the same, in that Kirk Fletcher continues to be one of the premier exponents of blues guitar out there.
It really doesn’t matter what kind of song it is, Fletcher’s guitar work is the most delicious icing, and indeed cherry, on the cake.  There’s the sparkling and relaxed ‘Shine A Light On Love’, with its slinky horns and the lift given by Jade MacRae in the middle, around which he wraps a jaunty, twisting and turning solo, and some dazzling extra licks besides.  There’s the smoky ballad ‘The
Kirk Fletcher - he knows what to do with that thing in his mitts
Pic by Mitch Conrad
Night’s Calling For You’, a tale of regret about relationship misdemeanours culminating in the moment when a lover “found about me and your very best friend”, the mood set by subtle piano and organ and then crystallised in Fletcher’s delicate, lyrical solo – and stiffened by a very Whitesnakey little background riff that slides into earshot halfway through.  Or there’s the ultra-twangy Carl Perkins-like rock’n’roll picking on ‘Wildcat Tamer’, a slice of fun that sounds straight out of mid-50s Memphis.
I could point to the way the simple, melancholy ‘I Can’t Find No Love’ is elevated by a solo that takes the melody into a different dimension.  Oh, I just did, didn’t I?  And on the closing ‘Hope For Us’, all concerned ramp up the tension before he takes off into a stunner of a solo, culminating in a segment like showers of sparks falling from the sky.
Best of all though, is the brace of songs in the middle of the album.  ‘Wrapped Up, Tangled In The Blues’ is an infectious tune, soulful but enlivened by a spiky, pinging riff, and it’s just not enough to say that Fletcher’s stinging outro solo sounds effortless.  It’s a high-wire, turn-on-a-dime affair, and whatever other metaphors you fancy.  Then he follows that with ‘Wrong Kind Of Love’, its tickling drums and rubber band bass augmented by funky rhythm guitar, the vocal counterpointed by conversational licks en route to another crackling, jaw-dropping solo – though it fades out rather than, as I’d have preferred, reaching for a big climax.
The song doesn’t remain the same, in that while his 2020 outing My Blues Pathway was peppered with songs about asserting oneself and one’s worth, this time around the subject matter is often – well, heartache, but sometimes also the possibility of music as a means of escape, redemption, transcendence.  Or whatever.  Gotta say, I find the notion of Kirk Fletcher as a cheatin’ heart a bit of a stretch.  But hey, dramatic licence and all that, and most of these songs about love’s labour lost hit the spot in terms of mood.
The song remains the same, in that here and there Fletcher falls a little short on the vocal front.  I’m damn sure he’s worked on his singing over the years – he’d be a fool not to – but it’s still not his forte.  There are times when he sounds entirely at home – ‘Wrapped Up’ and ‘Wildcat Tamer’ being prime examples.  But the wavering opening lines of ‘Night By Myself’ plant a gremlin in the back of the mind, tensing for further moments – though in fairness he just about gets away with it most of the time.  If only he had the velvety vocal control of a Robert Cray, or the zip and personality of a Joe Louis Walker, Kirk Fletcher would be an even stronger force to be reckoned with.
Still, as someone once said, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for”, and Kirk Fletcher is still stretching and striving to be as good as he can be.  Meantime, there’s no doubt that he’s a sublime guitar player, as Heartache By The Pound once again makes clear.
Heartache By The Pound is out now on Ogierea Records, and can be ordered here.

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