Bill Kirchen - The Proper Years
In an age where anyone who has has a single that has barely grazed the charts is deemed worthy of a Greatest Hits compilation, what a joy to receive an artefact that is sheer joy from beginning to start. Culled from 3 albums and a few bonus songs, there are 38 tracks covering all shades across the Americana spectrum Bill Kirchens "The Proper Years" is simply as good as it gets, pick any one of the tracks and you will hit a winner such is the amazing consistency.
From the opening Rock n roll of "Hammer Of The Honky Tonk Gods" you get high quality playing throughout but never make any assumption as to what the next track might sound like, "Rocks Into Sand" could easily not look out of place on a Mark Knopfler album.
At all times there is simply exemplary guitar playing and Bill knows exactly how to get the best out of his voice which seems at home in a myriad of situations from up tempo rockers ao the the most soulful of blues sounds.
There's marvelous warm soulful country on the likes of "Soul Cruising" and his reworking of "Devil With The Blue Dress On" is a delight. Held in high esteem across the musical community, there are guest appearances from Nick Lowe, and Elvis Costello from the 2010 "Word To The Wise" album, the former joining Bill in a cover of "Shelly's Winter Love" while "Man In The Bottom Of The Well" is one of Elvis's best performances in recent times and comes complete with a great guitar solo.
He can turn seemingly comic songs into tearjerkers, "Mama Hated Diesels" takes that seemingly light hearted opening line and wrings every inch of pathos out of it. In contrast he can also deliver comic songs to perfection "Talking About Chicken" is simply laugh out loud funny, while "I Don't Work That Cheap" is a time travelling hoot!
There really is something for everybody, "Skid Row In My Mind" is drenched in feeling, and there is an honest beauty in "Truth Be Told" that grips from beginning to end. Bill also has an affinity with the working man and songs like "Arkansas Diamond" or "Working Man" are wonderfully pitched from their perspective.
I'll be greatly surprised if 2020 yields another compilation that can come even close to matching this - it's that good!!