Bill Kirchen “The Proper Years” (The Last Music Co, 2020)

Before hearing this double album I was unaware of the existence of the rockabilly hall of fame, so these 25 tracks have been not only a pleasure but an education. Bill Kirchen began in the ’70s with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen opening for bands such as Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers. This band boasts not only 23 albums, 12 singles and 4 chart entries, but to be cited as an influence by heavy-hitters such as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Put simply, Bill Kirchen plays the guitar, and he plays it a lot. Kirchen’s style has been called “one of the most distinctive, pure-Fender Telecaster tone guitar sounds in modern music” by The Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The story goes that he plays a pretty sunburst 1959 Telecaster that he got in 1967 when he swapped his Gibson SG with a random on a bus; The rest is not history. Guitar Player magazine dubbed him “The Titan of The Telecaster” after he “played the heck out of his guitar” in New Haven.

Bill Kirchen started recording solo albums in the ’90s and, after racking up 12 albums, is still going strong. This double album is an amalgam of the three records he produced with Proper Records. The first, ‘Hammer of the Honky-tonk Gods‘ he played with Nick Lowe and was an exploration of the roots of Country. ‘Word to the Wise’ was a collaboration album that included musical royalty such as Elvis Costello, Paul Carrack, George Frayne, and Dan Hicks. In the third Proper release, Kirchen explored some of the dropped projects of Commander Cody in the album ‘Seeds and Stems’. This album, therefore, is not only a “best of” by Bill Kirchen, but it is a collection of the interesting collaborations and explorations by the Titan of Telecaster!
Normally at this stage, the review would turn to particular tracks; however this compilation has already honed the tracks from a larger pool and, as such, there is no filler here; Every track is fun and interesting. The album contains lyrics that make Kircher’s joyfulness contagious, gems such as “I know in the morning it’s gonna be good when I stick out my elbows and they don’t bump wood“, and chicken-picking classics like “Son, you’re gonna’ drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln“. It is hard to believe his quiet humble admission of “don’t tell anyone, but it’s not as hard as it looks”.
Bill Kirchen once told an interviewer in his home town “I like the Telecaster”. This collection is for anyone who loves the Telecaster, but also for anyone who likes feelgood licks and obvious delightful playing. Bill Kirchen dares you not to at least tap your toe.

The Titan of Telecaster releases a "Proper" retrospective

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