Bill Kirchen – Word to the Wise

January 01, 1970




Given the chance to join Peabody and Sherman in a rock’n’roll
wayback machine, it might be fun to set the dials back for a particular night
in Hawaii, 1970 when Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, Dan Hicks and
his Hot Licks, and the original line-up of Asleep at the Wheel shared the
stage. Bill Kirchen, then the lead guitarist for the Airmen, says in the liner
notes of his new album that all 21 musicians came out to play the encore
together. That sounds like a party worth joining.


Time travel having neglected to be invented, we can at least
hear Kirchen joined by three of his 1970 compatriots on Word to the Wise, along with quite a few other major talents he’s
befriended over his 40 plus years of slinging the guitar. No, Commander Cody,
Dan Hicks, (original Asleep vocalist) Chris O’Connell, Paul Carrack, Nick Lowe,
Maria Muldaur, Elvis Costello and Norton Buffalo don’t all play and sing at the
same time, but forty minutes of Bill Kirchen interacting with these folks is
forty minutes well spent.


Kirchen wrote or co-wrote all the songs save one cover each
by Merle Haggard and Roger Miller. Over the last fifteen years, Kirchen has
established a body of work as a songwriter that comes close to equaling the
spine-tingling axework which won his original reputation (and which guarantees
a coterie of fans waiting to see what new licks he’s come up with now). Look at
it this way – Elvis Costello takes over the vocals on “Man in the Bottom of the
Well,” a song Kirchen originally offered on his 1999 release Raise a Ruckus. If you can write a song
that sounds like it fits on an Elvis Costello record, you’re doing alright in
that department.


There are no guest stars on the album opener, “Bump Wood,”
which is a joyous romp that might have fit nicely with NRBQ back in their
prime. Album closer “Valley of the Moon” has some lovely harmonica work from
Norton Buffalo, who passed away shortly after recording it, but it rises on the
strength of Kirchen’s passionate love for his wife of 35 years, Louise. Chris
O’Connell nails her half of the duet on Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives,”
and the album title track, written by Kirchen for Dan Hicks to sing, sounds
exactly as much fun as that should lead one to expect.


Kirchen gets better and better at delivering songs, as he
continues to develop his already fine phrasing, and there are only a handful of
people alive who can handle a guitar the way he can. The songs are uniformly
terrific, and with the enormous talent of his friends on board, Word to the Wise is a worthy follow-up
to Kirchen’s 2006 gem, Hammer of the
Honky Tonk Gods


“Bump Wood,” “Man in the Bottom of the Well,” “Husbands and
Wives,” “Word to the Wise.” STEVE PICK



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