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'The Proper Years'   

-  Label: 'The Last Music Company'
-  Genre: 'Alt/Country' -  Release Date: '24th July 2020'

Our Rating:
Deep from the heart of Texas comes this major retrospective of a "telecaster titan best known as the co-founding member of the much-loved 'Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen'.

The massive two-CD collection features a whopping 38 tracks and 2 hours and 20 minutes of music. It brings together Kirchen's three solo albums to celebrate the 21st Century leg of the singer/guitarist's long career which spans half a century.

The albums in question are 'Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods' (2006), 'Word to the Wise' (2010) and 'Seeds and Stems' (2013). In addition there are three bonus tracks from Transatlanticana, a 2016 project with long time collaborator and keyboardist Austin de Lone.

There are a handful of heartbreakers like Tell Me the Reason and Get a Little Goner (both co- written by his wife, Louise) but the main focus is on maintaining a feel good factor.

Kirchen's overall modus operandi is to keep things sweet, simple and upbeat. This is the abiding message behindWord To the Wise, a light-hearted duet with the late Dan Hicks.

This sunny side up mood holds true even on Shelly's Winter Love where the singer resigns himself to the seasonal nature of a love affair ("till Springtime comes again"). On this song, the vocals are shared with Brits Nick Lowe and Paul Carrick. It is collaborations like this that add to the variety and wider interest of the collection.

Maria Muldaur appears on Ain't Got Time For The Blues and Husbands And Wives features a duet with female vocalist Chris O’Connell, formerly a backing singer with 'Asleep at the Wheel'.

On Open Range we hear another veteran country artist, California's Blackie Farrell while on Valley Of The Moon his guest is Norton Buffalo who was part of Commander Cody's farewell tour in 1976.

For I Don't Work That Cheap Kirchen teams up with Commander Cody himself (aka George Frayne). This is a prime example of the sound Kirchen has dubbed “dieselbilly” a mix of trucker-friendly driving songs with rockabilly.

But this original genre is only one feather to his cowboy hat. The wide range of styles he pays homage to include western swing, honky-tonk, jump blues, jazz and boogie-woogie. He even tries his hand at a couple of Dylan songs, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cryand The Times They Are A Changing.

His own If It's Really Got To Be This Way could pass for an Elvis Costello song and Costello appears in person for an electric rocker Man In The Bottom Of The Well. Rock is not Kirchen's forte, however. As he freely admits: “I was more interested in sounding like Doc Watson than Eric Clapton.”.

It would be tempting to view this enjoyable collection as a celebration of an artist ready to hang up his spurs but Kirchen insists “I've got more stuff in the works” so, God-willing, there's more where this came from.

Bill Kirchen's website

  author: Martin Raybould

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KIRCHEN, BILL - The Proper Years