Review by Peter Coates – www.facebook.com/InsideEdgePhotography
Former guitarist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and award-winning American blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher is excited to release his sixth album My Blues Pathway.
The record, which features a mix of originals, covers and two co-writes with Robert Cray’s long-time bass player Richard Cousins, has all music arrangements by Kirk himself, and follows hot on the heels of the 2018 Blues Music Award nominated album Hold On, which I reviewed for LMM when that was released – and then went out to stock up on the KF back catalogue!
The album is a bit of an opportunity for Kirk to take stock of where he has come from, and he also wanted to pay tribute to the tradition of great blues by keeping a bunch of great songs alive. He searched for a little more obscure artists to cover, and said “My Blues Pathway is an album about celebrating the music that got me excited about playing blues from the beginning of my career and the musicians that inspired me. My path led me straight back to the Blues.”
A smooth and funky feel opens up the album with Ain’t No Cure for the Downhearted which bounces along thanks to the bass, drums and piano, while Kirk applies some angst with the main riff, and throws in a pure and clean solo for good measure. He has a perfect blues voice for the smoother end of the genre, and it just oozes cool from start to finish.
No Place To Go has a more soulful feel, accentuated by the great horn section, and a bass line from Travis Carlton that is just wonderful – clearly co-written by bass-man Richard Cousins, this has a real Motown vibe, interspersed with almost inaudible lead breaks that fill so many little gaps, and the solo that runs the track out is just a delight. The soulful vibe continues, this time with a touch of added gospel, in Love is More than a Word, and features some warm Hammond Organ from Jeff Babko, as well as the horns again, and Kirk’s voice retains that honeyed tone that is reminiscent of Robert Cray at his peak, and this rich vein continues with the slightly more upbeat groove of Struggle for Grace which sees a really strong vocal delivery, and the backdrop of the horn section providing all the atmosphere. The lead guitar on this one is out of the top drawer, with the solo taking flight over the rolling backbeat and those horns, and there is a wonderfully full drum sound that David Kida has found on the kit.
A cover of AC Reed’s Rather Fight Than Switchis a really punchy delivery on a standard blues form, with a tasty little tremelo in the lead line, the band letting rip with more prominent drumming, and a neat take on the three-chord solo from the guitar, in place of the saxophone lead of the original. By this time at the end of side 1, it is clear just how much the brass section is adding to the record, never right up there in the mix, but always adding layers and warmth to the backing.
A classic minor-key slow blues burner, based on the classic blues story of heartbreak is up next in Heart So Heavy which sees Kirk do a real double-shift with the interplay between vocals and guitar, and he tears into the solos over the Hammond Organ which ties in so well with the Trumpet and Sax – the second solo to the close is just wild. Another cover with Sonny Boy Williamson’s Fattening Frogs for Snakes is a neat arrangement that rattles along while Kirk’s voice is at its most velvet and honeyed. I love the guitar work here as he zips around the fretboard through to the corniest of blues endings – just wonderful.
Chris Cain is a highly-regarded if not well-known Blues musician, and his song Place In This World Somewhere is given a fresh workout by the band, with some delicate keyboard work underscoring the slightly rougher textures of the guitar, and shows Kirk stretching his voice slightly out of his comfort zone to deliver the melody. An instrumental Texas Blues romp come in with D is for Denny – a homage to Denny Freeman who was an early influence on Fletcher. This blows away any of the cobwebs left, and you just want to crank up the stereo and have this one on repeat.
Guitar and Vocals by Kirk Fletcher
Bass by Travis Carlton
Drums on tracks 1,2 & 3 by Lemar Carter
Drums on tracks 4,5,6,7,8 & 9 by David Kida
Keyboards by Jeff Babko
Saxophone by Joe Sublett
Trumpet by Mark Pender
Harmonica on “Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal” by Charlie Musselwhite
National Resephonic Guitar on “Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal” by Josh Smith
Cleopatra Records – 25th September 2020
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmZ2iiega7fb7vriOS-jjfA/feed Pre-order from : https://orcd.co/kirk_fletcher_my_blues_pathway