Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone,
(Red House, 2016)

Paul Reddick,
Ride the One
(Stony Plain, 2016)

The promo sheet that rode shotgun alongside my review copy of Ride the One from Alberta to Minnesota identifies Paul Reddick as "an unofficial poet laureate of Canadian blues." A singer, songwriter and harmonica player, Reddick is said (and I have no reason to doubt) to be a keen student of blues in its various iterations. The new release, his Stony Plain debut, seeks to expand the genre's vocabulary. Results may vary according to taste.

More and more, I find -- I've registered complaints about it in this space before -- that a whole lot of what's marketed as blues turns out to be no more than blues-accented electric-guitar rock. That characterizes the first couple of cuts ("Shadows" and "Celebrate") and two or three later ones. There's nothing wrong with them if your tastes run that way. If they don't, if you came here for the blues, they may stir irritation and impatience. That's your call.

More interesting to me is the third number, "Mourning Dove," which calls up the feeling of traditional music as filtered through the eccentric, swampish sensibilities of Tony Joe White and the late J.J. Cale. It is a fine song, and it's no surprise that it was chosen as the one Reddick contribution to the three-disc 40 Years of Stony Plain (reviewed here on 2 July 2016).

Approximately half the time, however, Ride is set at full volume. Reddick's voice and harmonica are buried in the mix, creating an effect not unlike that of someone who's shouting from a distance. Some of the songs that don't, such as "Diamonds," are sort of reminiscent -- in a good way, I might add -- of the neo-folk-blues Bob Dylan was making before he elected to channel Frank Sinatra (not well) and drive some of us to the decision that we may as well take our listening elsewhere.

Bill Kirchen, lead electric guitarist for the legendary 1970s hippie-honkytonk/rockabilly outfit Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airman, shows up with his first album on the venerable Red House label. He's in the company of Bay Area keyboard man Austin de Lone, whose musical sensibility is hand-to-glove compatible with Kirchen's. Their tastes run to straight-ahead rock 'n' roll (not be confused with so-called classic rock) and Bakersfield-baked country. There is, too, the occasional tuneful folkish song. Proceedings close with a spirited revival of Dylan's anthemic "The Times They Are a-Changin'."

This last is no doubt intended as the call to arms that the young Bob meant it to be. It's not the CD's only suggestion of longing for, maybe anticipation of, progressive change over the horizon. Generally, Kirchen and De Lone's approach builds from another generation of electrified social music, imagined with especial liveliness in the opening cut, the original "Hounds of the Bakersfields," a cheery tip of the hat to the departed yet immortal Mr. Haggard.

If you know Kirchen's music, you'll know what to expect: consistently strong material, irresistibly rockin' arrangements and sounds with deep roots and blooming branches.

music review by
Jerome Clark

24 September 2016

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