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Smokin’ guitars: Bill Kirchen, Word to the Wise; Seasick Steve, Man From Another Time; BackBeat, Coming Home

Seasick Steve probably won’t be visiting me on my little island any time soon, but I would sure like to see him. I’d even be willing to crack open a few beers (my liquid refreshment is getting dangerously low in the shelter here; I’ll have to hope the tide brings something in worth drinking) and provide the bottlenecks.

Here are three albums filled with guitar licks hot enough to broil your steak, infected with the blues, played by some gentlemen who have honed their craft for decades. These are artists who know how to do it right.

Now I’m off to find some thatching for my new shelter. This one’ll have a den. And maybe four walls. Now if only I can figure out how to make a mosquito net.

Seasick Steve, strippin' beer bottles; thoughtfully... (Click to visit artist's website.)

Seasick Steve
Man From Another Time
[Atlantic/Warner Bros. UK 5051865615828 (2009)]

Seasick Steve (aka Steve Wold), winner of Mojo’s Best Breakthrough Act and a platinum-selling recording musician in Britain, sounds as if he grew up slinging gooey mud from the Mississippi Delta and learning how to play growling bottleneck slide guitar from the likes of Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charley Patton. Not bad for a guy rolling around in his 60s, right? Raw, gritty, and stripped-down to the bare essentials using usually a single guitar (sometimes a cigar box) and stomping his feet (check out his many performances on YouTube), Seasick Steve sings and plays the blues as though he were born in the backseat of a sharecropper’s wagon. Songs like “Diddley Bo,” “Happy (To Have a Job),” “That’s All,” and “Never Go West” on this album usually feature a burning John Lee Hooker boogie beat that slaps you across the side of the head and makes you wanna grab a cold, cheap beer.

Seasick Steve knows what he’s singing about, because he’s been around the hard-luck block a few times: carnival work, busking in the streets, an early bad marriage, carpenter, farm hand, short-order cook, roofer, shoe salesman, and garbage man. Settling down in Olympia, Washington, in the early 90s with his second wife (who is from Norway), he saved enough money to open a dinky recording studio and produce groups that included Modest Mouse and Bikini Kill. He recorded his own solo album (Cheap) under the name “Seasick Steve” in 2003, and it created a stir in the United Kingdom. A television appearance on the Jools Holland show in 2006 sealed his reputation as a blues master, and soon he was booked into festivals like Glastonbury, All Points West, Fuji Rock Festival, Leeds, and Coachella. Seasick Steve has even sold-out the Royal Alpert Hall in London—none too shabby a gig, for sure. And why the handle “Seasick Steve,” you ask? Apparently he doesn’t do well on boats or on long-distance car rides.

—T.J. McGrath (Woodbridge, CT)

Editor’s note: Seasick Steve is an highly energetic live performer. Here’s a videos from his 2006 appearance on Jools Holland’s TV show in Britain.

BackBeat
Coming Home
[Self-release (2010)]

The variety on BackBeat’s debut CD Coming Home is refreshing. If jazzy pop is your thing, you’ll find it on the opening track, “In The Night.” Or if you’re craving a sweet, Orbison-esque trip back in time, check out the lovely “I Was There.” There’s a standout three-chord rock rave up called “Late Night Man,” and for those who want to kick back with some harmonica-seared blues, the band offers “Blues Been All Around Me”. And oh yes, you won’t be able to resist the harmony-driven folk-rock of “Long Way Without You.” Strong vocals and effective arrangements deliver this musical mélange. Norm Ouimet, Rich DeVoe, George Primeau, Mark Pascale, and Ed Dudwoire hail from the capital district of New York and have played in more bands than you can shake a drumstick at. The individual relationships (we’re talking 30 years in one case) undoubtedly inform their sound, and you get the sense that BackBeat makes music for the true love of it. Hey, it’s the only way. [www.backbeat5.com]

—Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)

Bill Kirchen at SXSW. (Click to visit the artist's website.)

Bill Kirchen
Word to the Wise
[Proper PRPACD011 (2010)]

Bill Kirchen, the veteran guitarist who played with Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, strikes gold with his eighth solo album, Word to the Wise. Featuring powerfully engaging duets with Elvis Costello and Maria Muldaur, as well as collaborations with Commander Cody and Norton Buffalo (among many, many others), Kirchen proves that his musical prowess has only become even more finely honed over his 40+ year career.

From the rollickin’ fun of “Valley of the Moon” to the sing-a-long “Arkansas Diamond”, the album entertains with knee-slapping good times. Alternatively, the poignant wail of “Ain’t Got Time For the Blues” is sure to put a melancholy smile on anyone’s face. While there is some filler on this album, gems like “Man In the Bottom Of the Well” featuring Elvis Costello and the mournful Merle Haggard cover “Shelly’s Winter Love” far outweigh the fluff. Proving that his range as an entertainer is as broad as his guitar playing is electrifying, Kirchen does not disappoint.

Combined with stellar guest collaborators, fantastic production that places the listener right in the action and a rock-solid country/rockabilly style, this is a can’t-miss album. Bill Kirchen and his rockabilly guitar have never sounded so good. Word to the Wise is a treat to the ears and to toe-tapping feet.

—Mike Tager (Baltimore, MD)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

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