Album Review: Jim Kirkpatrick – Dead Man Walking

Review by Peter Coates –

Dead Man Walking
Released – 21st April 2023

Songwriter, vocalist and guitar slinger Jim Kirkpatrick announces the release date of his latest, eagerly awaited, 10-track solo album Dead Man Walking, which impressively showcases Jim’s multiple rock and blues talents and expands his variety and range into pastures and prairies new. 

Dubbed “England’s equivalent to Joe Bonamassa” by Blues Matters, Jim has built up over a quarter-century’s experience in Blues and Rock and earned a tonne of respect from his fans, peers and critics alike. Not only is he a gifted songwriter (who’s written numerous nationally UK playlisted songs) but he’s also a deft-fingered, multi-skilled, guitarist who’s famed for possessing both Bonamassa-type energy and slide guitar and fingerstyle— worthy of the great Duane Allman — as well. 

Jim is probably best-known as the lead guitarist of the legendary British melodic rock band FM, with whom he’s served since 2008. However, he’s also worked and toured with many other big hitters, worldwide, several of whom have collaborated with him on his solo projects, with Bernie Marsden, FM’s Jem Davis and Status Quo’s rhythm section John ‘Rhino’ Edwards and Leon Cave all involved here.

The record opens up with a southern work-song in Promised Land which sees Jim deliver a wonderful acapella over acoustic guitar, with a bit of backing bass, and an impassioned lead vocal line that serves as an intro to the title track of the album, which is a much more straight-up southern blues rocker co-written with Bernie Marsden.  Dead Man Walking rumbles along with a great lead line, and Jim’s vocals are clear and strong, with some effective backing in the catchy chorus, and some extra layers from Jem Davis’ keyboards that allows Jim free reign on the guitar throughout the track, all the way through to the Promised Land reprise that closes it out.

Jim plays bass as well as guitars on Razor’s Edge which has the feel of a great British three-piece blues rocker, enhanced with some Hammond Organ, which rolls along sweetly, until the change in tempo for the chorus which is really effective.  Jim’s pair of solos here are nicely under-stated efforts that hold true to the melody of the song, with some impeccable harmonics.  The tempo and volume goes up with Life On The Run with the chunky riff driven along by the bass and drums, and the first signs of Jim’s incandescent fretwork through the solo and the lead breaks behind the final chorus.  

The closest thing to a ballad is the mellow blues and soul of The Journey Home featuring session man Ollie Collins on bass, and this sees Jim stretch himself musically into a less familiar genre, and while not my favourite track on the record, it does see some impressive power in the vocals, and some subtle class in the guitar-work, with one of Jim’s trademark clean and pure solos included.

Union Train has been released as the first single and has that country-rock vibe that FM fans will recognise from several of their records.  There is a lot going on in this track and it all fits together perfectly – with the possible exception of Jim’s American accent!  The track is given something extra from the Fiddle of Clare ‘Fluff’ Smith (The Reads), and the middle-eight is a ripper, and sets up what I think is a guitar duel between Jim on Slide and Jim on Lead, and there are some glorious backing vocals from Alex McIlquham-Jones.   There is a Black Velvet feel to the bass line and verse of Road of Bones, which is a corker of a track, underpinned by a straight-up blues riff, interspersed with searing licks.  The drop in intensity for the mid-section is just a pause for breath before the next full-on chorus with the solo that follows being pure class from start to finish, continuing right through the final chorus.  

Again, part of the main riff for Heaven Above has you digging into the memory to come up with a snippet from Walk This Way, but there is so much more to this stomping blues-rocker, which again showcases the AOR-tinged blues of FM through the verse and chorus, and some of the crisp accents, even more through the inclusion of a horn section and backing vocals from Sarah Miller (part of Nearly Dan with bassist Ollie Collins).  Jim is again outstanding on lead vocals, and some great drumming from Leon Cave.

There is a glorious feel about Hold On, with a hint of gospel in the vocal harmonies and an overpowering sense of joy through the melody and tempo, and some supreme guitar work tucked in among the words.  This is British blues-rock of the highest quality from the Free / Bad Company mould, but given extra dimensions from the keyboards and Sarah’s harmony vocals, and another quick-fire solo from Jim, enhanced by plenty of lead breaks behind the last couple of chorus refrains.  

The album closes with a very different take on Rory Gallagher’s I Fall Apart, with an epic orchestral score, and the additional piano and keyboards that add so much.  The pure guitar playing is honest to the Gallagher sound, and as the track builds into the solo section, the hairs on the back of my neck go up, and Jim lets rip with the purest and most extraordinary solo on the album.  The guitar work is supplemented by the strings behind it, and you just want the solo to continue as the intensity increases, as Jim shows why he is regarded so highly as a guitarist’s guitarist!

Jim has collaborated with Bernie Marsden and some of Rory’s band members on a recent record, so is well-placed to cover this one, and does so in a unique fashion that is a fitting tribute to the late great Irish blues wizard.  I made some pretty bold comments in my review of Ballad Of A Prodigal Son back in 2020, and perhaps Dead Man Walking has not blown me away quite like that record did, Jim Kirkpatrick has cemented his position as one of the UK’s best Blues Rock artists of the 21st Century, showing off his UK and US influences from the 1960s and 1970s, and adding an extra dimension in his particular delivery and style.

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Photo credit – Jonathan Johnson

Live Photos – Pete Coates