Album Review : Jim Kirkpatrick – Ballad of a Prodigal Son

Review by Peter Coates –

Ballad of A Prodigal Son
Released – Oct 2020

I bought this album when first released – Jim Kirkpatrick is currently the lead guitarist of my favourite AOR band, FM, and has always offered a finely balanced melodic blues-rock tone to the live and recorded output of that wonderful band since he joined in 2008.

Jim is a well-regarded session guitarist, and also plays alongside Bernie Marsden (ex Whitesnake), and with Rhino’s Revenge, a band fronted by Status Quo’s bass player John ‘Rhino” Edwards – and has also played with the likes of Foreigner, Ian Paice, Neil Murray and pop band Deacon Blue.

So when he announced that he would be releasing a new solo record I was curious as to what this would deliver – and the first few listens basically left me somewhat stunned.  I have then reviewed a number of other Blues records, old and new – Joanna Connor, Walter Trout, Savoy Brown, Joe Bonamassa, King King, When Rivers Meet and the recent Rory Gallagher collection, and gone back to Jim’s album for an in-depth listen.  This has formed the view at least in my mind, that Ballad of A Prodigal Son may be the most important British Blues-Rock album of recent years, and Jim should be regarded as being right at the pinnacle of the world’s best Blues guitarist / vocalists.

The album kicks off with the title track which is a driving belter of a blues rock track, with a clean chunky riff, some surprisingly warm vocals, and a whole heap of blistering solo breaks that are intersperse with the bold anthemic backing vocals.

There are contributions in the writing and playing credits from the likes of John ‘Rhino’ Edwards (Status Quo), Steve Overland (FM), Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake) Sarah Miller (Chris Bevington Org), Jem Davis (FM), Neil ‘Kegsy’McCallum (Chris Bevington Org), David Levy (Rory Gallagher) Richard Newman (Paul Rodgers), Scott Ralph (Chris Bevington Org), Didge Digital (FM), Neil Murray (Whitesnake), Paul Westwell (Sinner Boy) and bassists Chris Bevington and Chris Cliff.

No Such Thing As A Sure Thing has a Delta Blues bump and grind to the harmonica (Paul Westwell) and slide guitar, and a really strong vocal performance that puts Jim right up there with Clapton and Bonamassa alike

There a slowing down of the pace with Ain’t Going Down Alone which has deep warmth in the guitars and voice, which seems to show off more of the talent as each song comes along.  The backing vocals also add a whole new level of harmony, which gets enhanced by the searing guitar solo – brief but intense, and the various licks and guitar breaks that weave their way in and out of the melody.  

We step back in time and cross the Atlantic for the instrumental Americana-style Blue Heron Boulevard, which has an Allman Brothers feel all over it, with some intricate fretwork from Jim and a display of slide guitar work that is really smooth.   Be Hard With It screams over the speakers with a gritty slab of a riff and powerhouse beat, with a wild opening solo, and Jim giving his all as a rock god vocalist to boot.  There are some neat time changes in here, the wah wah-pedal gets brutalised, and the band absolutely rocks – with the drums and bassline particularly impressive, and some nice Hammond organ providing some texture.  As the beat picks up towards the end after a very retro “white-noise” interlude, we really see the band open up!

Dirty blues rock guitars open up Skin And Bone (Part 2) and the riff sticks with you all the way through the song, which provides a perfect musical feel to the lyrics, all about the wash-up of a heavy night out!  There a hugely positive feel to the big, brash Always On The Road, with horns and backing vocals that provide a big band Motown vibe (co-written by one B Marsden), some honky tonk piano magic from Jem Davis, and allow Jim to roam freely over the top with the guitar.

We are immediately transported to the Crossroads with the intro to 61 and 49, which blends Robert Johnson with Joe Bonamassa, and throws in some insane harmony vocals from Sarah Miller (Chris Bevington Organisation) which are a great and soulful counterpoint to the blitz of slide guitar wizardry.  There is a ballad next up in Talk to Me, which sees Jim deliver a wonderful lead vocal as well as breathtaking solos. There is an old-school feel to the track – Otis Redding or Sam Cooke – but with a fresh blues feel to it.

Gravy Train is another ripper of a blues-rock track, with a bit of a ZZ Top feel to what is actually a Status Quo track from 2007, although you would probably never pick it as Quo – much more attuned with the blues rock sound, and with a superbly catchy chorus, and a riff from the late great Rick Parfitt.  

The opening bars of Brave New World hint at a merger of classic Pink Floyd and Joe B, and co-written with Thea Gilmore, and delivers a spine-tingling emotional punch over the 7 ½ minutes, which sees Jim range from meandering mellow guitar harmonies, to a crunching riff, and when the solo proper kicks in at 4 minutes in, we see the full range of skills from Jim, while the band ups the intensity in support.  After a reprise of the chorus we head back into full guitar-hero mode, and Jim just leaves you astounded at the sounds he can wring from the guitar.

Album-closer All You Need Is All You Have opens up with a slight Alex Lifeson feel, before it morphs into a beautiful bluesy ballad, with special guest on keyboards in FM’s legendary Didge Digital, and just as you think this is going to stay as a gentle soft-paced number, it ramps up with a glorious rock-guitar solo that is just incendiary, before a return to the delicate intro as the outro!  What a way to end one of the albums of 2020.

Produced by Jim as well, this record has it all – if you can still hunt down a copy of it, you will not regret it.

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