Californian bluesman Kirk Fletcher makes a welcome return to the fray with his new offering Heartache By The Pound, to be released on his newly launched independent label Ogierea Records at the end of July. Seven solo albums since 1999 may seem like a relatively modest output, but he’s not exactly out of work, having been in Joe Bonamassa’s band for the Live at the Greek Theater DVD and his Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks album, as well as appearing on various recordings by a raft of other top names in the blues world. He has recorded several albums with The Mannish Boys during that time, and was a member of Texas blues-rockers the Fabulous Thunderbirds for four years, as well as playing on Kim Wilson’s solo album Smokin’ Joint in 2001.
This set comprises mostly Kirk Fletcher originals, with a couple of classic covers thrown in, but all with the distinctive Fletcher sheen. For those not in the know, he uses a slick, clean-toned and expressive Telecaster sound for the most part, which complements an equally expressive vocal delivery in thick tones. Part of his band for this set is borrowed from Bonamassa, and they deliver a funky, groovy sound on almost every number. Album opener Shine A Light On Love is a jolly, major-key retro-rocker which threatens to be a standard 12-bar, but drifts into more complex and melodic territory with horn accompaniment and some nice girly backing from the excellent Jade Macrae. Lead single Afraid To Die, Too Scared To Live is again deceptive; a minor key slowish blues that could easily have been pretty maudlin, were it not treated to that funky backing vibe – check it out at the foot of this page. We are back to major-key funky, jazzy blues-pop for the title track, but the first real highlight for this reviewer comes with track four, a chugging shuffle named Night By Myself, which could be straight out of the early Fabulous Thunderbirds songbook. The intriguing feature of this number is the spare bass work, in which specific notes are systematically left out of the backing riff, leaving gaps which keep it tripping along in a way which is difficult to describe. In fact I’m starting to realise by this point that a lot of the vibe hangs on the bass playing, which is never flashy, but always sympathetic and a little more imaginative than one might expect for fairly standard electric blues. I don’t know quite where to lay the credit for that though – the main bass player for the album is credited as Randy Bermudes, also from the T’Birds, although four separate bands are credited, with Travis Carlton playing bass in two of them. Hopefully the sleeve notes will elucidate, but sadly I don’t have access to the full text.
The Night’s Calling For you is a bit of a dirge about infidelity, but another highlight comes with the enigmatically-titled Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In The Blues, with its tremolo-heavy guitar tone echoing the Thunderbirds’ original guitarist Jimmy Vaughan. Again, the bass shines as brightly as Fletcher’s excellent guitar work and Macrae’s cutesy backing vocals on this number. I Can’t Find No Love is a jazzy pop ballad with tasteful Hammond backing, but then the band let themselves off the leash with the surprising bluegrass-rockabilly madness of Wildcat Tamer, with its twangy, country-tinged guitar and tinkling boogie piano from Bonamassa’s incumbent keyboard player Reese Wynans. Following that frenetic boogie, Hope For Us seems like a bit of a strange choice to end on at first, starting as a fairly ordinary soul-pop song, but it builds to something approaching an ‘80s power ballad, building to a sudden drop, with the last few bars played out on some tastefully sweet guitar work.
I first came across Fletcher when he played the guitar-heavy BluesRockFest in my home town, on the same bill as several up-and-coming blues rockers such as Catfish, a blues band featuring young hot-shot Matt Long, the hard-rocking Kris Barras band, Big Boy Bloater and slide player Mike Ross. Every band brought its own strengths to the party, with Fletcher’s slick and jazzy licks adding a varnish of sophistication and class. This latest offering just reinforces that early impression, and having a pool of musicians available to borrow from the likes of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Joe Bonamassa’s band certainly can’t do any harm.
Kirk Fletcher releases his new album “Heartache By The Pound” via Ogierea Records on July 29th. 2022. The album can be pre-ordered from from https://linktr.ee/kirkfletcher.